Friday, March 28, 2014

Textual Criticism and its implications for inerrancy

As a Christian I’ve spent a lot of time dwelling on and pondering the case for inerrancy. The reasons for this are numerous. First, it was probably the doctrine that could have potentially led to the loss of my faith had I chosen to hold to the “inerrancy-or-bust” mentality that plagues fundamentalists. Second, it was after rejecting this doctrine that I truly felt my faith strengthened—I could put my faith solely in God instead of setting up the bible as my spiritual focal point. Third, it seems to me that this doctrine is more of a spiritual crutch to many to be held at all costs instead of a position deduced by pure logical inference.
 With such reasons thus stated, I find myself occasionally running through my mind the reasons why this doctrine is simply unwarranted and untenable. And let me say that the reasons I, personally, have for rejecting this doctrine seem to be miles wide in scope and miles deep in substance. Yet there are a few arguments I have come across (or have come up with myself) that I feel have really put the final nail in the coffin for the doctrine of inerrancy and it is in this post that I would like to expound one of those very arguments.

 This argument begins with the recognition regarding the findings of Textual Criticism. In case the reader is unaware, Textual Criticism is the endeavor of attempting to ascertain the original form of a text. Now, usually appealing to any kind of secular scholarly consensus regarding the bible is something that fundamentalists and inerrantists will not react favorably towards—since in order to affirm the doctrine of inerrancy one would have to reject almost all consenses reached by the academic community. Yet, there is one area where even fundamentalists will (usually) yield to academia and that is in the science of textual criticism. In New Testament textual criticism scholars have reached conclusions that cannot be denied, since these conclusions have concrete evidence to ground them. For instance, it is unanimously agreed that all the (thousands of) New Testament manuscripts we possess have scribal errors. Some of these errors are simple copying mistakes while others are blatant textual additions. These variants reach a mark as high as, and most likely higher than, 400,000.

It’s important to understand that most of these errors are completely insignificant (e.g. spelling mistakes). However, there are many that are quite significant indeed. 1 John 5:7-8 is one of the only places where the doctrine of the trinity is explicitly taught, and yet these verses are not found in a majority of NT manuscripts; the story of the adulterous woman (John 7:53-8:11) is completely absent from many early manuscripts of John; and the resurrection ending of Mark (Mark 16: 9-20) was not added until two centuries after the Gospel of Mark began to circulate. Let me articulate once more that these conclusions are based on concrete physical evidence of the manuscripts we possess.

 So, what is the significance of the above conclusions, and how do they affect the doctrine of inerrancy? Well, first let me begin by correctly articulating the inerrantist position. The doctrine of inerrancy only states that the original texts of the bible are inerrant, and not that God would keep the editors and scribes, who transmitted the texts, from error. Fair enough. But there is double standard employed here; and I believe presuppositionalist  Greg Bahnsen demonstrated it in his own writings:

There is no scriptural warrant for holding that God will perform the perpetual miracle of preserving His written Word from all errors in its being transcribed from one copy to another.

 Notice the problem? Did God ever claim that he would keep the scribes and editors from corrupting his word as it was transmitted textually? No. But, similarly, did God ever claim that he would keep the human writers of scripture from corrupting his word as they wrote scripture? No, he did not. (Let it be known that an appeal to the inspiration of scripture does not save this claim unless one already assumes that inspiration necessitates an inerrant text--which would need to be demonstrated.) So, how can one claim that the original text should be inerrant but not the text after transmission, since both of these assertions rest on the same lack of promulgation of the divine will?
Moreover, what makes the bible different after the original text is formed? Is it not still the “Word of God”? Of course it is. So, why would God not allow error to corrupt his Word during the writing of the original text but he would allow error to corrupt his Word during its textual transmission? Surely any answer given in vindication of the former would not also apply to the latter? So, I maintain that we can form a valid dilemma regarding the nature of scripture: Either (1) God desired that no human error intermix with his Word or revelation, or (2) God did not desire such a thing. But we know for a fact, again due to textual criticism, that human error did corrupt God’s Word as it was textually transmitted. So, we have warrant for rejecting (1) and are therefore completely warranted in accepting the conclusion that God allowed human error to intermix with his message—whether it pertains to the original text or not. Thus, we have logical airtight reasons for denying the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Does our theology condemn us?

The diversity of theology

My theological convictions are, needless to say, not identical to what is seen as orthodox—whatever that is—by many Christians. I don’t hold to the doctrine of inerrancy, to a historical Adam and Eve, or to the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement—these are many of the theological underpinnings that fundamentalists cling to. Yet, with thousands of Christian denominations it becomes almost impossible to identify exactly which group of theological doctrines constitutes orthodoxy; more than that, it becomes difficult to associate the “saved” with “whichever denomination holds to doctrines X,Y,Z.” Subsequently, the question immediately is posed regarding whether or not it is even really reasonable to infer that salvation is contingent upon right believing—again, whatever that means.

 I maintain that such a position—that salvation depends on correct belief—goes against our deepest moral and rational intuitions.  Perhaps an illustration can help illuminate. Take two individuals, call them Christian A and Christian B. Christian A holds to theological doctrines a through h, while Christian B holds to doctrines a through g. Let it be the case that both Christians are equally devoted and sincere regarding their faith in, and love of, God. Now let it also be the case that doctrines a through h happen to constitute the only group of beliefs that make up an orthodox theology. Therefore, it is obvious that Christian B lacks only one valid theological belief, namely, belief in doctrine h.

 Now, is it reasonable to conclude that since Christian B lacks belief in one doctrine, he is any less “saved” than Christian A? Is it this singular doctrine that opens a chasm between the saved and the condemned? Surely such an inference seems to border absurdity. Is someone less of a Christian simply because he happens to lack belief in, for instance, the validity of prayer to the saints? I would think not.

 Yet, one might ask, what if the doctrine that one rejects is a “pivotal” doctrine such as the divinity of Jesus, or the Trinity? Surely these doctrines have much greater significance regarding whether or not one is a real Christian. However, I fail to see that this is the case. Again, remember that there are thousands of Christian denominations, and some regard the aforementioned doctrines as crucial and some do not. So, how are we to determine that these doctrines are in fact the ones needed for salvation?

 I maintain that right belief—if we are even capable of such a thing—is of much less importance than our actions and disposition towards God Himself. The minister Leslie D. Weatherhead makes my point for me:

If Christ can—and he does—hold in utter loyalty the hearts of St. Francis and John Knox, of Calvin and St. Theresa, of General Booth and Pope John, of Billy Graham and Albert Schweitzer, who hold irreconcilably different beliefs about him, how can belief and uniformity of belief be vitally important?


Another illustration that drives this point home for me is my own father. Growing up I held a specific set of beliefs regarding the nature of my father. I now know that much of what I knew about my father only constituted a small portion of his essence. There were many aspects of my father’s life and character—both good and bad—that I simply had no idea existed. Moreover, there were even beliefs that I harbored regarding my dad that were completely off the mark. But, did I love my dad? Yes, with all my heart. Did he love me? Yes, with all of his. Did we exhibit the epitome of a loving relationship? Yes, I believe we did. Then exactly how important were my beliefs about my dad compared to my love for my dad? Surely, there is no comparison.

 Now don’t get me wrong. Of course some degree of correct belief was required for me to have the relationship with my dad that I had. I had to, at the very least, believe that he existed; I had to believe he was my father; I had to believe that he loved me etc. But, most of the beliefs about my dad that did not fit in these aforementioned beliefs were merely peripheral.

 For the Bible tells me so

However, the thought strikes me that perhaps the above speculations and appeal to rational intuitions will not satisfy the fundamentalist evangelical. So, it is always helpful to bring out their holy grail of certainty, i.e. the Bible, to drive a point home.

 Let us begin with a well-known Old Testament character: Abraham. Abraham is a classic biblical example of someone who believed in and obeyed God no matter the seeming impossibility or illogical nature of His commands. In Genesis, during a conversation between God and Abraham, it states, “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). That is, Abraham was considered righteous and upright by God due to his deep belief. Moreover, we read from Paul continually in Romans 4 how Abraham was made righteous and justified by his unwavering faith in God.

 But, if we think deeply about this story we realize something profound: Abraham, no doubt, did not have right belief—if by right belief we mean belief in orthodox doctrines. Abraham had no knowledge of Jesus, the Trinity, the atonement, the Eucharist etc. His whole foundation of belief was simply grounded in the hope and love of the Father. Being a man devoted to serving and following God, he was justified by his faith. Yet, to reiterate, his faith was not grounded in orthodox belief.

 Let us jump ahead to the New Testament, and take a look at different aspects of the gospels.

First, let it be articulated that Jesus did not require correct theological belief to be a prerequisite for discipleship.  Notice that Jesus didn’t quiz Peter or John or Andrew on theology before he called them to follow him. Neither did he, when preaching the Kingdom of God or healing the sick, ever make many allusions (if any) to orthodox theology. Moreover, how could he have even done such a thing when his followers and disciples were Galilean Jews?

 Second, let us take of glimpse of the so-called parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). This is a parable regarding the judging of the nations. In the parable the son of man separates the sheep, to his right, from the goats, to his left. The sheep symbolize the righteous and the goats symbolize the unrighteous. Yet, the reason for the division—that is, what determines one’s status as a sheep or a goat—is based on one’s actions towards bringing about the Kingdom of God—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked etc. Now notice that what condemns and saves an individual has nothing whatsoever to do with right belief! In fact, those that are saved claim that when they committed their actions, that furthered the Kingdom of God, they had no idea that they were doing such things on Jesus’ behalf.

 Third, it must be remembered that most of the doctrines that many Christians consider to be orthodox were not even promulgated as official doctrine until centuries after Christ lived. The doctrine of the incarnation wasn’t even properly expounded until 451 A.D. at the Council of Chalcedon. Similarly, the doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t settled until the end of the 4th century under the head of numerous church fathers. Therefore, it must go without saying that the early church lacked any belief in the aforementioned doctrines—as affirmed by the councils—and, thus, could not have based their evangelization on orthodox theology, since orthodox theology would not even obtain completion until hundreds of years later. Are we to claim that the early church, which was populated by probably the most holy and most devoted Christians, was not saved because they had not the right beliefs yet in place? Surely to affirm such a line of reasoning is ridiculous.

Come together

Mind the Beatles reference and let us conclude here. It seems obvious that one’s salvation is not crucially dependent on believing the right things. The converse of this is that surely maintaining heretical theological beliefs—though I doubt these can be determined—is not reason enough to condemn one. Unfortunately many churches fail to understand this; they are constantly stuck in the “us vs. them” mentality. Hundreds of churches feel that if one is not a part of their denomination, then one is not saved.

 However, in light of the above argumentation it seems that such bickering is useless, invalid, and only hinders the umbrella of Christianity from carrying out what it needs to: bringing the Kingdom of God down to earth by demonstrating the love of God and Christ, and helping individuals to make their way back to the God they have forsaken. I maintain that such an endeavor is so much more crucial than making sure our beliefs fit neatly into the preconceived box we’ve made for them.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

The universe just is?

What is the ultimate explanation of the universe? Is there something beyond the universe that accounts for its existence, or does the universe contain no explanation for its being, and simply is? For a metaphysical naturalist, who believes that the universe is a closed system—that is, there is nothing that transcends the natural world that could be labeled supernatural—the former is rejected and the latter accepted. There really is no other option for the naturalist, if he wants to remain faithful to naturalism. If the universe is all there is and nothing outside the universe can explain its existence, then it must simply be viewed as the ultimate brute fact. That is to say, the universe just exists, with no rhyme, reason, or explanation.

 Yet, I maintain that this position can be demonstrated to be untenable. One way (there are others) to demonstrate this is by examining the nature of the universe itself. You see, if we can show that the universe is contingent, then, by the definition of contingent, we will have shown that the universe requires something outside itself to explain its existence. But, how can we go about demonstrating that the universe is contingent? Well, how about we begin by defining our terms.

 There are many different definitions of a contingent being: (1) that which could possibly have not existed, (2) that which could cease to exist, or (3) a being whose essence (what it is) is distinct from its existence (that it is). It seems that we could utilize any of these definitions, though (1) would seem harder to predicate of the universe. Moreover, (2) seems easy to predicate of the universe, yet it seems difficult to infer from this definition that the universe therefore requires an explanation for its existence from something outside of itself. Hence, I feel it easier to pursue our inquiry with the utilization of (3).

 So, something is contingent if what it is is distinct from the fact that it is. Take, as an illustration, a basic chair. The essence of the chair is that it provides a seat (among other things). The existence of the chair is the fact that it has being—that is, that it actually exists. The fact that the chair’s essence is not identical to its existence demonstrates that the chair is contingent. Why, you might ask? Well, because if it is not the essence of a chair to exist—which it certainly is not since my concept of a chair shares the same essence, yet does not exist—then the explanation for its existence must lie outside the chair. That is to say, we cannot examine the nature of the chair and deduce the reason for its existence; we must look elsewhere. Hence, the chair is contingent.

 Now, let us turn our attention back to the universe. Everything inside the universe is, just like the chair, contingent. There is no existent thing in the universe whose essence is identical to its existence. But, if the universe is simply the totality of all these contingent things (e.g. galaxies, planets, rocks, humans, stars etc.) then how can the universe fail to be contingent itself? Now it is at this point that one is charged with the fallacy composition—that is, fallaciously reasoning from the part to the whole of a thing. If every brick in a wall weighs one pound, it doesn’t logically follow that the wall itself weighs one pound. Similarly, just because every thing in the universe is contingent, this doesn’t entail that the universe as a whole is contingent. However, this is simply a misunderstanding. Not every inference from a part to a whole is fallacious. For instance, if every city in a country lacks electricity, then the country as a whole also lacks electricity. Similarly, a compiled group of things whose essences are distinct from their existence does not seem to rid the group itself of this distinction. The group as a whole still has an essence—namely, being that very collection of things—which is not identical to its existence—that it does in fact exist. And therefore, the universe, which contains all contingent things, would have to be contingent.

 Now, if the universe is contingent, then there must be an explanation for why the universe exists, since the explanation is not to be found in the essence of the universe itself. Stated thus, we see that the universe cannot, contrary to the naturalist, just be. Rather, there must be an explanation for the existence of the universe, and it must come from outside the universe. The universe then is not a brute fact—if there is any such thing—rather, it is something that exists, not out of its own necessity, but out of the necessity of another.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Christian Fundamentalist double standards

A while back I was discussing the topic of evolution with my father-in-law. He is a devout Christian of whom I admire and look up to very much. However, he is also what could be labeled a fundamentalist Christian. That is, he is a young-earth creationist, biblical inerrantist, and a Calvinist. Since I adhere to none of these it should be obvious that we rarely agree when we discuss theology. This aforementioned discussion was no different, though I abstained from voicing my objections that I will presently promulgate.

During this discussion regarding evolution, we stumbled upon the topic of animal death. My father-in-law articulated that one reason he cannot believe in evolution is due to the fact God, in Genesis, is said to have looked at his creation and labeled it good. “But, I cannot believe” he said, “that God would have looked upon His creation, whereby the means of survival was death, struggle and suffering, and called it good”. This is, most likely, a common attitude of fundamentalists regarding evolution, and understandably so—understandably even from my perspective. For such an argument rests on our moral intuitions, and most of those intuitions would prefer a means of creation free from death and suffering.

However, my objective in this post is not to stand as an apologist for God creating through the medium of evolution. Rather, it is to demonstrate that the aforementioned objection raised by fundamentalists betrays a fallacious line of reasoning that is employed when viewed in light of the rest of their theology.

Notice that the above objection against evolution is predicated on the following line of reasoning: If I find moral problems with event (a), then God could not have directly been the cause of (a). For the fundamentalist claims that they find the idea that God created through evolution morally suspect, and since God labeled his creation good, and morally suspect events cannot be good, then God must not have done such a thing. Fair enough. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with such reasoning at all.

But, does the fundamentalist apply such reasoning across the board? In short, no. Take the story of Noah’s ark, or the genocides supposedly ordered by God in the OT. Do fundamentalists take these narratives as depicted in the Bible as fully and literally true? If they’re biblical inerrantists they do. So, is drowning the entire human race—including women, children, and the very animals the fundamentalists were so worried over just a moment ago—and subsequently ordering the slaughter of whole nations—including, again, women, children and animals—morally suspect? This would seem self-evident.

Surely the double standard of the fundamentalist is blatantly manifest. Why is one allowed in one instance to utilize their moral intuitions to deny attribution of an event to God, but not in another instance? Either we are allowed to engage in the former or not. But, the fundamentalist knows that if we are allowed this principle across the board, then inerrancy will collapse. Such is the paradox of the fundamentalist.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Is the brain a computer? Part IV

Let us conclude our series regarding the theory of computationalism. The last few posts (part I, II and III) have, at least to my thoughts, hurled some pretty devastating objections towards the view that our minds are simply some type of software program run on the hardware of the brain—different in degree but not in kind from a digital computer. These aforementioned objections have demonstrated that computers, even in principle, are simply unable to produce any of the defining characteristics that make up human mental experience. Yet, there is still one more aspect of human cognition that computationalism falls entirely short of accounting for: intentionality.

In philosophy of mind, intentionality refers to the ability of something to be about, or refer to, or represent something beyond itself. For instance, my writing this post exhibits a multitude of intentionality: I am thinking about the post and about the words I type; I am referring to many concepts beyond myself (e.g. intentionality); I have a desire to write this post etc. Seeing as how all cognition consists in a subject entertaining the presence of an object, and therefore of the subject having thoughts about said object, it should be apparent that intentionality is present in every act of cognition. In fact, intentionality has such an intimate correlation with the mental that Franz Brentano—the pioneer of addressing intentionality as such an important philosophical topic—labeled intentionality the “mark of the mental”. Now, if intentionality is such a crucial aspect of what constitutes the mental, then surely any worthwhile theory promulgated in the philosophy of mind should be able to, at the very least, account for such a phenomenon. So the question becomes whether or not computationalism can account for “the mark of the mental” (i.e. intentionality).

It might seem that computationalism can indeed account for intentionality. For computers seem to exhibit all types of intentionality. A computer might generate a picture of a lake, and surely the computer is representing something beyond itself, namely, a lake. Or, a computer could produce a game of chess, and surely the computer is now about something, namely, chess. Of course we could think of hundreds of more examples where a computer seems to demonstrate the aspects that make up intentionality. But, do these instances really exhibit intentionality on the part of a computer? No, they do not; at least, not the kind of intentionality that the mental exhibits.

For instance, picture a piece of paper with the word “bunny” written on it. We obviously know what the paper is referring to, namely, a bunny. Yet, does the paper really have intentionality as we would characterize it? Surely the paper is referring to something beyond itself, which is exactly what constitutes the intentional. However, I maintain that upon closer examination it can be demonstrated that no such intentionality is really going on. To illuminate this, let’s imagine that all humans on the face of the earth were suddenly to go extinct. Would the paper still refer to a bunny? No, the word “bunny” on the paper is now just a meaningless set of ink blots on a paper. The term “bunny” is a term that us humans invented to represent an animal. It is we who grounded the term “bunny” with its meaning and, therefore, its intentionality. Without human minds the term “bunny” is absolutely vacuous with regards to meaning.

However, it is still true that while the human mind grounds the semantics of the term “bunny”, the term does in fact still refer beyond itself. But, this intentionality is only valid if it derives its meaning from a mind—again, the term is meaningless apart from a mind that imparts such meaning to it. Therefore, the intentionality is not intrinsic to the paper or the term. What we have here is what John Searle calls “derived intentionality”.  And if we look around the world at inanimate objects that seem to exhibit intentionality, we will see that all forms of such intentionality are derived. The painting of the Mona Lisa only derives its representation, of the lady that was painted, from the painter. The number “2” that represents the mathematical concept of two only represents such a concept because we endowed it with such semantics. Thus, we see that any intentionality not constitutive of a mind is only derived intentionality; only the mind has intrinsic intentionality.

The points made above should demonstrate the obvious ramifications for computationalism. Computers only exhibit derived intentionality; any intentionality present in a computer is imparted to it by the programmers and users. The only reason a computer produces a game of chess is because the programmers have put “produce a game of chess” into its programs; moreover, a game of chess is only a game of chess relative to chess players. But this provides an insurmountable problem for computationalism. If computers can only exhibit derived intentionality, then they surely cannot produce any kind of a mind. For minds, by their very nature, exhibit intrinsic intentionality. So, a mind would already have to exist for a computer to even attempt to produce a mind. The computationalist, once again, has to presuppose what he’s trying to account for! Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

Once again, we see that computationalism is unable to account for the very characteristics that make a mind what it is, and therefore it is an unsuccessful theory in the philosophy of mind.

Lastly, as I similarly articulated in the post on rationality, the dead-end that computationalism runs into when trying to ground intentionality is no different than the dead-end that any naturalist account of the mind runs into as well. If the physical can only exhibit derived intentionality, then it cannot account for intrinsic intentionality; and therefore it cannot account for the existence of the mind.