A Kairosfocus Briefing Note:


On the Fallacy of Selective Hyperskepticism:

Or, how to identify and avoid (or if necessary, counter)
a common variety of closed-minded skeptical Question-Begging
frequently met with in debates over Christian Evidences, Origins Science topics and on other subjects calling for balanced, critically aware, analytical thought

GEM 05:12:17b.3, as u/d 06:02:25 - 09:12:19, WCTs 10:01:29, JPM+ 02:15a, adj 12:20 & 21, lying and Alinsky neo Marxism 11:07:23

SYNOPSIS: The fallacy of selective hyperskepticism occurs when one exerts (perhaps inadvertently) a double-standard on the degree of warrant demanded for accepting testimony, claims or reports on matters of fact; matters which as Havard's Simon Greenleaf (one of the fathers of the modern theory of evidence) observed, can only be shown to be so beyond reasonable doubt, i.e. to moral rather than demonstrative certainty. Also, given Kurt Godel's work in the 1930's even mathematical demonstrations fail of absolute certainty, as -- for sufficiently rich axiomatic mathematical systems -- complete sets of axioms will be inconsistent and there is no constructive procedure to create sets of axioms which are known to be consistent. The fallacy is rooted in the problem that if radical skepticism is universally applied, it ends in self-referential absurdity, through corroding confidence in ALL claims; thus, itself as well. That is, subtly, it contradicts and so refutes itself. However, sometimes, when a claim does not sit well with one's worldview, one is tempted to dismiss it through selectively -- thus inconsistently -- requiring a degree of evidence that, by the very nature of the case, a matter of fact cannot attain; perhaps through the slogan, "extraordinary claims require extraordiary evidence." (This problem of a double-standard in assessing evidence, unfortunately, is particularly commonly met with in discussions on the authenticating evidential underpinnings of the Christian Faith, and on matters connected to origins sciences.) Instead of falling into such inconsistencies, it is wiser to first examine the comparative difficulties of the worldview level claims and commitments thus involved, on factual adequacy, coherence and simplicity/ad hocness, leading to a position that can be called "reasonable faith." In so doing, reasonable principles of assessing fact-claims and associated basic beliefs can be applied, on a fair and balanced basis. For such a process, Greenleaf, in his Testimony of the Evangelists, also provides several rules of thumb for practical reasoning on such matters of fact. Such rules may then help us avoid unnecessary error and gain reasonable and well-warranted confidence -- amounting to moral (as opposed to demonstrative) certainty -- in the truth of well-authenticated records and testimony, such as are encountered in an examination of the credibility of the New Testament roots of the Christian Faith.



A] Defining Selective Hyperskepticism

--> At what point does selective hyperskepticism becomes willfully deceptive, i.e. lying?

-->  What about "Selective Hyper-credulity"?

--> Locke on how "the candle that is set up in us" shines brightly enough for all our purposes

--> Closed-minded (often, abusive) objectionism

--> The fallacy (and attitude) of the closed, typically indoctrinated mind

--> Critically aware, educated open-mindedness

--> The trifecta combination fallacy: distractive red herrings dragged away from the track of truth and  led out to caricatured strawmen soaked in (implicit or explicit) character-assassinating ad hominems and ignited to cloud, confuse, polarise and posion the atmosphere for discussion

-->  Turnabout ("he hit back first") turn-speech accusation

--> Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals world

--> But Alinsky was no [neo-]marxist . . .?

--> The Jesus "planks and sawdust" alternative

B] Key case: Authenticity and the C1 NT (vs the C2 Gnostic "Gospels")

--> Historicity of the NT and the gospel as summarised in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11

--> On alleged contradictions in the Passion narratives [onward link]

--> Paul's AD 55 summary and record of the AD 30's testimony to the gospel

--> On the C18 Deist skeptical theories [onward link]

--> The minimal facts argument and appeal to the serious inquirer

--> On the "pagan copycat" claim and the "parallel" myths on allegedly dying and rising pagan gods [onward links]

--> On Afrocentrism and related issues concerning Egypt, the Patriarchs, Moses and the Exodus [onward links]

--> The Morison challenge

C] The Root Problem -- Radical Skepticism

D] The Underlying Challenge: Evidentialism

E] A Better Approach: Reasonable Faith

--> Thomas Didymus

F] Some Rules for the Road

G] The Warranted Credible Truths (WCTs) approach to building/choosing a worldview

--> Josiah Royce's truth claim no 1: error exists

--> Self-evidence and foundational truth

--> A list of seven foundational, warranted credible truths (WCTs 1 - 7)



APPENDIX 1:  On the Lucy Pevensie School of Epistemology

APPENDIX 2: A case study on atmosphere-poisoning dismissal: On the alleged narrow-mindedness and hatefulness of the gospel's claim to be the unique truth and to present a unique path to God

APPENDIX 3: A media spin case study on NT scholarship: BBC Dan Brown-ises a news item on the digitalisation of Codex Sinaiticus

--> Objective ("straight") news

INTRODUCTION: In the 19th Century, Law Professor Simon Greenleaf of Harvard, a key founding father of the modern theory of evidence in Anglophone Jurisprudence, observed in his Testimony of the Evangelists, excerpting His classic Evidence, Vol I, Ch1, that:

[26] . . . It should be observed that the subject of inquiry [i.e. evidence relating to the credibility of the New Testament accounts] is a matter of fact, and not of abstract mathematical proof. The latter alone is susceptible of that high degree of proof, usually termed demonstration, which excludes the possibility of error . . . In the ordinary affairs of life we do not require nor expect demonstrative evidence, because it is inconsistent with the nature of matters of fact, and to insist on its production would be unreasonable and absurd . . . The error of the skeptic consists in pretending or supposing that there is a difference in the nature of things to be proved; and in demanding demonstrative evidence concerning things which are not susceptible of any other than moral evidence alone, and of which the utmost that can be said is, that there is no reasonable doubt about their truth . . . .

[27] . . . . In proceeding to weigh the evidence of any proposition of fact, the previous question to be determined is, when may it be said to be proved? The answer to this question is furnished by another rule of municipal law, which may be thus stated:

A proposition of fact is proved, when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence.

By competent evidence, is meant such as the nature of the thing to be proved requires; and by satisfactory evidence, is meant that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond any reasonable doubt. . . . . If, therefore, the subject is a problem in mathematics, its truth is to be shown by the certainty of demonstrative evidence. But if it is a question of fact in human affairs, nothing more than moral evidence can be required, for this is the best evidence which, from the nature of the case, is attainable. Now as the facts, stated in Scripture History, are not of the former kind, but are cognizable by the senses, they may be said to be proved when they are established by that kind and degree of evidence which, as we have just observed, would, in the affairs of human life, satisfy the mind and conscience of a common man. [Testimony, Sections 26, 27, emphases added.]

Thus we see that, over a hundred years ago, Professor Greenleaf anticipated much of our contemporary discussion over defeat-able (Strictly: "defeasible")  reasoning on empirical issues and on inference to best explanation, by distinguishing between discussions on matters of fact and those on logical demonstration relative to accepted axioms. (Cf. here, here, here and here. Also, here.) In so doing, he highlighted the point that the former can only be warranted to the level of moral, rather than demonstrative, certainty.

(Of course, he was nearly a century too old to have the advantage of knowing from Kurt Godel's seminal work in the 1930's, that no sufficiently rich axiomatic mathematical system can both be "complete" [entailing all true claims in the field] and self-consistent; also, there is no constructive procedure for creating an axiomatic system that is known to be internally consistent -- i.e. there is an irreducible uncertainty in even Mathematics as well. That is, we now credibly know that even demonstrative mathematical proofs are not absolutely certain. And even then, he aptly said in Evidence, V 1 ch 1:

"Even of mathematical truths, [Gambler] justly remarks, that, though capable of demonstration, they are admitted by most men solely on the moral evidence of general notoriety. For most men are neither able themselves to understand mathematical demonstrations, nor have they, ordinarily, for their truth, the testimony of those who do understand them; but finding them generally believed in the world, they also believe them. Their belief is afterwards confirmed by experience; for whenever there is occasion to apply them, they are found to lead to just conclusions.")

Greenleaf also gave us a useful summary of the practical solution worked out in courts over the centuries for establishing when a claim has been reasonably shown to be true, in the teeth of adversaries seeking to undermine it. For, since one way to undermine the persuasive force of evidence is to inappropriately create doubt that it sufficiently warrants a conclusion, he also identified a commonly encountered skeptical fallacy, as noted above -- but which he did not specifically name, apart from calling it "the error of the skeptic"; which is unfortunately a bit too vague for practical purposes. For, while (a) he has plainly identified it as a fallacy ("error") and (b) described its nature as a selective, discriminatory demand for an inappropriate degree of warrant not reasonably to be expected of matters of fact; (c) he has unfortunately not given it a specific and handy name. (Which is rather important for dealing with fallacies, for "their name is legion"! [Cf. also here, here and here. And, since it is even more important to learn how to think straight, cf. here [PDF here], here and here in this site.])

Now, the fallacy works by demanding an inappropriate degree of warrant for ideas or claims one is inclined to reject [the better to reject them while still seeming "objective" in one's own eyes]. 

So, we may profitably and descriptively term the fallacy: Selective Hyperskepticism.

A] Defining/Describing Selective Hyperskepticism

Selective Hyperskepticism: that fallacy which seeks to reject or dismiss otherwise credible evidence by demanding an inappropriately high type or degree of warrant not applicable to matters of fact, i.e. the general type of question being discussed. Especially, where the same standard is not exerted in assessing substantially parallel cases that make claims that one is inclined to accept.

This form of double-standard based question-begging is of course generally applicable -- e.g. it is the root of the oft-heard credo popularised by the late Cornell Professor, Carl Sagan, i.e. "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." (For more on this, see the discussion of evidentialism below.) 

Here, the underlying problem is that "extraordinary" as a rule means that the matters in view are claims one wishes to reject, not so much on grounds that the evidence is inadequate relative to what constitutes adequate warrant for matters of fact, but instead because the claims appear to be implausible relative to one's worldview assumptions and assertions. But plainly, if the real issue is divergence of worldviews, the matter should be addressed as one for comparative difficulties analysis across live options for core beliefs about the world, on (1) factual adequacy, (2) coherence, and (3) elegance/ad hocness -- not by begging the question through pretending that the evidence brought forward is inadequate for effectively deciding on matters of fact.

Those who indulge in the more stubbornly correction-resistant forms of such selective hyperskepticism should therefore reflect soberly, slowly and seriously on this Wikipedia summary definition of lying (acc: Jul 23, 2011):

To lie is to state something with disregard to the truth with the intention that people will accept the statement as truth . . . . even a true statement can be used to deceive. In this situation, it is the intent of being overall untruthful rather than the truthfulness of any individual statement that is considered the lie . . . . One can state part of the truth out of context, knowing that without complete information, it gives a false impression. Likewise, one can actually state accurate facts, yet deceive with them . . . . One lies by omission when omitting an important fact, deliberately leaving another person with a misconception. Lying by omission includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions. Also known as a continuing misrepresentation . . . . A misleading statement is one where there is no outright lie, but still retains the purpose of getting someone to believe in an untruth . . .

A quick follow-up counter-challenge now gate-crashes the party: what about "selective hyper-credulity"?

We see, here, the perception that there is a "mirror-image" fallacy, as "believers" -- poor, naive sheepish things -- are generally not skeptical enough to be intellectually credible; at least in "serious" company. That is, those who openly acknowledge that they walk "by faith" (especially religious faith) in today's skeptical climate, invite dismissal as being naively accepting of incredible factual claims without proper critical inquiry -- and, of course, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." 

Indeed, it would be claimed in many quarters that this is the "real" problem. 

So, let us pause and take a bit of a closer look: 

Q: Must we accept that for every "overly skeptical" thinker, there is at least one "overly credulous" believer?


WHY: So soon as we recognise that we live in a world of many contrary worldviews and associated fact claims -- which plainly cannot all be true -- we at once see that the material challenge is to have a coherent, consistent standard by which we can reasonably decide --  however cautiously, however provisionally and however potentially fallibly -- which fact claims to accept; and thus also, which to reject or even just to leave unsettled for now.  That is, once we recognise the challenge of the fallacy of selective hyperskepticism, we have already brought the main issue into focus, and that in a way that brings to bear the key point: consistency in critical thought while allowing us to -- however provisionally -- accept some things as credible. (For, if one reverts to radical absolute skepticism, one dismisses all knowledge claims. This, of course, immediately must include the knowledge claim implicit in the radical skeptical assertion that "knowledge is impossible."  This is, notoriously, itself a knowledge claim so it is plainly self-contradictory and thus self-refuting. We simply cannot consistently live like that. So, like it or not, in the end we must all live by faith, the real root issue thus being which one, why.)

In sum, Greenleaf's identification and description of the fallacy of selective hyperskepticism is all that we need to competently address the problem. 

Then, once the problem is properly addressed, the resulting solution will allow us to reasonably, critically, consistently and fairly decide (a) what to believe, (b) what to disbelieve, (c) what to leave undecided for now. It will also help us give sensible reasons -- i.e. explain the warrant --  for why we have done so. Moreover, we can see that if someone believes something he should not (i.e. on inadequate or improper evidence or grounds), such -- necessarily -- is so because he already disbelieves something else, that on the evidence he knows or should know, he should believe. 

On this last issue of what we ought to know, John Locke in the introduction to his famous Essay on Human Understanding, makes a stunning -- but often overlooked -- point, in Section 5:

Men have reason to be well satisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them (as St. Peter says [NB: i.e. 2 Pet 1:2 - 4]) pana pros zoen kaieusebeian, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniences of life and information of virtue; and has put within the reach of their discovery, the comfortable provision for this life, and the way that leads to a better. How short soever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments [Prov 1: 1 - 7], that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties [cf Rom 1 - 2 & 13, Ac 17, Jn 3:19 - 21, Eph 4:17 - 24, Isaiah 5:18 & 20 - 21, Jer. 2:13Titus 2:11 - 14 etc, etc]. Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads, and employ their hands with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own constitution, and throw away the blessings their hands are filled with, because they are not big enough to grasp everything . . . It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant [Matt 24:42 - 51], who would not attend his business by candle light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The Candle that is set up in us [Prov 20:27] shines bright enough for all our purposes . . . If we will disbelieve everything, because we cannot certainly know all things, we shall do muchwhat as wisely as he who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly. [Text references added to document the sources of Locke's allusions and citations.]

Therefore, we plainly need not multiply fallacies without necessity, but should instead attend to our plain intellectual duty in a world where we can warrant core worldview claims to a point of morally responsible assurance sufficent that we have no excuse for inaction, but not to proof beyond all doubt or dispute. Nor, can we finite, fallible, morally fallen and too often ill-willed mortals guarantee that the full set of our present beliefs is certain beyond correction. So, we may be confident of certain things to the point where we are responsible to act, but must also be open to correction of error. For, one of the most certain of all truths is this: error exists. (Indeed, to try to deny this truth claim immediately provides an example of its truth, it is undeniably true. This will play a key role in Section G below, where we set about the task of building a responsible worldview.)

However, we must now also note on a rhetorical tactic that is often associated with selective hyperskepticism, which we may for convenience label: closed-minded objectionism.  

CLOSED-MINDED OBJECTIONISM: One far too often encounters those who are not only  locked into thinking in the circle of an often demonstrably erroneous view, but are militantly and -- this is the telling symptom -- irrationally (i.e. fallaciously) resistant to and dismissive of correction and/or to hearing out alternative views. 

Thus, we may identify and descriptively define a closely associated fallacy to selective hyperskepticism; namely, the fallacy (and attitude) of the closed mind:

CLOSED-MINDEDNESS*: Stubbornly irrational, question-begging resistance to correction and/or alternative views. (Cf. a typical turnabout accusation on this, here.

This fallacy manifests itself in a habitual pattern of thought, feelings and argument that is:

(a) question-beggingly committed to and/or 

(b) indoctrinated into thinking in the circle of a particular view or position and/or 

(c) blindly adherent to "the consensus" or vision and school of thought or paradigm of a particular set of authorities. [NB*: This last includes today's new Magisterium: "Science."] 

As a result, 

(d) the victim of closed-mindedness becomes unwarrantedly (i.e. fallaciously and often abusively) resistant to new or alternative ideas, information or correction. 

(NB: Cf. discussions on belief, knowledge, warrant and justification here, here [an excellent introductory lecture note], here, here, here, here and here [technical].) 

That is, it is not a matter of mere disagreement that is at stake here, but of 

(e) stubborn and objectively unjustified refusal to be corrected or to entertain or fairly discuss on the merits ideas or points of view outside of a favoured circle of thought.  

In extreme cases, 

(f) the closed minded person who has access to power or influence may engage in the willfully deceptive (and even demonic) practice of actively suppressing the inconvenient truth that s/he knows or should know.

(By contrast, a properly educated person is open-minded but critically aware: s/he is aware of the possibility and prevalence of error, and so (i) habitually investigates and then (ii) accurately, objectively and fairly describes major alternative views, fact claims and lines of argument on a topic, (iii) comparing them on congruence to his/her real-world experience and that of others s/he knows and respects, general factual correctness, logical coherence and degree of explanatory power; thus (iv) holds a personal view that results from such a process of comparative difficulties, while (v) recognising and respecting that on major matters of debate or controversy, different people will hold different views.)


* It is worth noting that it was unusually hard to find a serious, detailed, balanced and objective discussion of this key concept on the Internet; including in that well known generic reference, Wikipedia. It was therefore saddening -- but utterly revealing -- to then find the just following in that encyclopedia's discussion on indoctrination: " Instruction in the basic principles of science, in particular, can not properly be called indoctrination, in the sense that the fundamental principles of science call for critical self-evaluation and skeptical scrutiny of one's own ideas." (This is of course precisely a case in point of diverting the naive reader from being critically aware on a significant and dangerous possibility for abusing science for indoctrination in various avant garde schools of thought that are often precisely capital examples of propagandistic advocacy, misleading or outright deceptive manipulation and indoctrination. And, given the painful and at points horrendous history of Social Darwinism, the eugenics movement and several other claimed scientific schools of thought over the past 100 years, this is inexcusable. In our day, the self-referentially incoherent and amoral worldview of evolutionary materialism often operates under the false colours of "Science," even seeking to redefine science to suit its agenda. The 2009 Climategate scandal shows through leaked materials how even leading research and international institutions are not immune to bias, manipulation of data and processing, selective reporting of findings, suppression of limitations, abuse of influence of the peer review process in Journals, Conferences and reports to suppress valid alternative views, and the subsequent indoctrination of the public through resulting deceptive iconic case studies and illustrations.) 

Outspokenly belligerent victims of the fallacy of the closed mind (as just described) will typically  fire off barrage after barrage of trivial and question-begging or even abusive objections to corrective comments, and will usually show no sign of letting up. 

Indeed, in some cases, after one has patiently and cogently (i.e. in the sense of being a strong inductive argument) answered and corrected a long string of objections, one may see a circling back to earlier objections [perhaps on the theory that onlookers will have forgotten that they were already raised and adequately answered, or will be wearied enough to walk away in disgust]. Then, after a wearing and often painful discussion, when defeat on the merits is plain, many victims of closed mindedness will childishly pick up their bat and ball (depriving others of resources to play on), slam the door and walk away in a huff.

A deeper level sign of this problem of closed mindedness, is the insistent refusal to engage in balanced assessment of comparative difficulties on the merits of fact-claims, logic [whether deductive or inductive or by inference to (provisional, so current) best explanation (cf brief discussion and diagrams here)] and underlying alternative core assumptions and worldviews. That is, there is a question-begging assumption (or outright assertion), that  the objector's position is somehow superior or privileged, e.g. it is the "consensus" of the "truly" expert, by whatever prestigious label is relevant, e.g. "Science" or the like. 

Yet worse, there may be attempts to use what we may now term the trifecta combination fallacy a red herring distractor, used to drag attention away from the main issue, then led out to a strawman simplistic misrepresentation of the presumed argument in the main being objected to. The objector then soaks the strawman in attacks against the credibility or character of those making the case being caricatured, and he -- almost always the case -- then triumphalistically lights up the same through incendiary demonising rhetoric; all, to distract attention from the main issue, and also clouding, poisoning and polarising the atmosphere with blinding hostility. That is, distraction from the track of truth, led out to agenda-serving distortion of issues and perspectives, and culminating in character assassinating slanderous demonisation of people, dismissal, polarisation and divisiveness.

(On long experience, the intelligent design issue is particularly rife with this problem, especially on the part of evolutionary materialism advocates. Then, if disciplinary restraints are applied if such misbehaviour goes beyond all civility, such -- frankly, dishonest -- advocates will usually cry "censorship" or even -- hypocritically -- "intolerance." [Given the now multiple cases of unjustified career-busting and blatant censorship of those professionals who have questioned aspects of the evolutionary materialistic "consensus," this is nothing short of a turnabout, usually false, accusation that projects blame onto the victim. For shame!])

That itself requires some further definition:

TURNABOUT ("HE HIT BACK FIRST") TURN-SPEECH FALSE ACCUSATION: It is very easy to blame a victim of an ad hominem attack (or worse, an actual physical attack) if s/he attempts to -- or may attempt to -- defend him-/her- self, verbally or physically.  

In effect "s/he hit (back) first!"

In short, this fallacy turns on blaming the victim, who is usually more sinned against than sinning [cf. the now thankfully rejected sleazy Courtroom tactic of blaming the victim of a rape for "provoking" the attack . . .]. This is a compounded -- and often, compounding -- form of the atmosphere-poisoning ad hominem attack. Too often, it is highly successful.

It works by trying to drag the victim down to the level of the aggressor.

This, by implying or asserting either . . .  

(a) [im-]moral equivalency through pretended equality of blame for the "cycle of accusations/ attacks/ violence"; or else, far worse . . . 

(b) the full-blooded turnabout false accusation: trying to give the false impression that the victim trying to defend him-/her-self is the one who started (or, "provoked") the quarrel or fight and should therefore bear the lion's share of blame for it. 

(I have even met the case where the very name, turnabout or turnspeech, is twisted to try to infer that the victim is the hypocritical provoker of the trifecta compounded by turnspeech attack. And like unto this is: how dare you point to the trifecta fallacy pattern, that is a provoking attack on us! Oh, what a tangled web we can weave. )

Furthermore, if the defender is getting the better of the resulting argument, quarrel or fight, resort is too often then made to . . . 

(c) Ill-founded accusation of "disproportionate response," converting the attacker into the perceived "real" victim. 

And, once tempers and emotions are so set to flaring out of control -- as Aristotle warned in The Rhetoric, Bk I Ch 2: " Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile" -- a rhetorical conflagration then results. The track of truth, fairness even on side-issues, and respect for the reputation of others and for justice are then easily lost sight of in the verbal and/or physical battle that follows.

Unfortunaterly, this pattern of ruthless, destructive incivility  is now a commonplace in our region and the wider world, not least because of the direct and indirect impact of the type of radical community activism and agitation proposed and pioneeered by the little known but deeply influential neo-Marxist founder of the Chicago School of Community Organizers, Saul Alinsky

His premise for resorting to ruthless radicalism -- as stated in his key work, the 1971 Rules for Radicals [RFR] was that:

"A Marxist begins with his prime truth that all evils are caused by the exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalists. From this he logically proceeds to the revolution to end capitalism, then into the third stage of reorganization into a new social order of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and finally the last stage -- the political paradise of communism." p.10. [And let us note, Marxism has always been quite varied in form, so, the sort of cultural/institutional subversion strategy advocated by Alinsky is not sufficient to remove him from the general frame of thought, whatever differences he may have had with say the Moscow orthodoxy.]

{Break in transmission: since I have recently been (incorrectly) accused of radically misreading Alinsky's neo-Marxism, let me here clip for the record my correction to that, based on an excerpt from Alinsky's prologue to Rules for Radicals:


>>The Revolutionary force [notice where he begins! As in, he makes you see the red shirt in his opening words . . . ] today has two targets, moral as well as material. Its young protagonists are one moment reminiscent of the idealistic early Christians, yet they also urge violence and cry, "Burn the system down!" They have no illusions about the system, but plenty of illusions about the way to change our world. It is to this point that I have written this book. These words are written in desperation, partly because it is what they do and will do that will give meaning to what I and the radicals of my generation have done with our lives.

They are now the vanguard, and they had to start almost from scratch. Few of us survived the Joe McCarthy holocaust of the early 1950s and of those there were even fewer whose understanding and insights had developed beyond the dialectical materialism of orthodox Marxism. My fellow radicals who were supposed to pass on the torch of experience and insights to a new generation just were not there. As the young looked at the society around them, it was all, in their words, "materialistic, decadent, bourgeois in its values, bankrupt and violent." Is it any wonder that they rejected us in toto . . . .

What I have to say in this book is not the arrogance of unsolicited advice. It is the experience and counsel that so many young people have questioned me about through all-night sessions on hundreds of campuses in America. It is for those young radicals who are committed to the fight, committed to life.

Remember we are talking about revolution, not revelation; you can miss the target by shooting too high as well as too low. First, there are no rules for revolution any more than there are rules for love or rules for happiness, but there are rules for radicals who want to change their world; there are certain central concepts of action in human politics that operate regardless of the scene or the time. To know these is basic to a pragmatic attack on the system. These rules make the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one who uses the tired old words and slogans, calls the police "pig" or "white fascist racist" or "futher mukkers” and has so stereotyped himself that others react by saying, "Oh, he's one of those," and then promptly turn off . . . .

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be - it is necessary to begin where the world is if are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system [evidently, to subvert it].

There's another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevsky said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution.

To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system (i.e. plainly to subvert from within], among not only the middle class but the 40 per cent of American families - more than seventy million people - whose income range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year (in 1971). They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don't encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let's not let it happen by default . . . >> [highlights added]

In short, my description of Alinsky as a neo-Marxist -- which was explicitly there in the comment -- was precisely correct.

Perhaps this generation does not know the force of the terms I highlighted, but these terms above are to be understood in the context of historical and dialectical materialism, the heart of so-called scientific socialism. The idea is that with the aid of a vanguard movement, the masses, now awakened to their power to break the intolerable system, can bring in the revolution that paves the way to the bright socialist future.

Alinsky is plainly arguing for progress in the "science," and so is a neomarxist.

On p. 10 [as clipped], he describes the classic marxist position, but in a context where he explicitly advocates amorality and disruptive ruthless tactics, that works to taint his whole system. And indeed, the rules for radicals is in a way just the same thing on another level: the "truth" that is implicitly accepted as so by one who relativises truth. The whole is subtle, which is precisely the point: by the time young idealists swept up in the wave of "change" wake up to what they have done, what they have enabled and what they have become, it is too late and the cynically ruthless high machiavellians have seized power. [Back to the main discussion . . . ]}

"The end is what you want, the means is how you get it. Whenever we think about social change, the question of means and ends arises. The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms. He has no other problem; he thinks only of his actual resources and the possibilities of various choices of action. He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work. ... The real arena is corrupt and bloody." p.24

"The means-and-ends moralists, constantly obsessed with the ethics of the means used by the Have-Nots against the Haves, should search themselves as to their real political position. In fact, they are passive — but real — allies of the Haves…. The most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means... The standards of judgment must be rooted in the whys and wherefores of life as it is lived, the world as it is, not our wished-for fantasy of the world as it should be." pp.25-26

"The first step in community organization is community disorganization. The disruption of the present organization is the first step toward community organization. Present arrangements must be disorganized if they are to be displace by new patterns.... All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new." p.116

In short we see here a radically relativist ("his prime truth"), utterly amoral Machiavellian (might makes right and ends justify means) ruthlessness that rejects moral constraints on means, in pursuit of ideological and revolutionary agendas that start by working to destroy the current order. But, such habitual ruthless amoral destructiveness soon become an all consuming pattern of behaviour and -- on the long, sad and oft- repeated history of "successful" radical revolutions -- normally ends in chaos and tyranny. It it then no surprise to see among the resulting rules of action laid out in pp. 127 - 134:

1. "Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have." . . . .

3. "Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

4. "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity."

5. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage." . . . .

13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.  [NB: Notice the evil counsel to find a way to attack the man, not the issue. The easiest way to do that, is to use the trifecta stratagem: distract, distort, demonise.] In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.'...

     "...any target can always say, 'Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?' When your 'freeze the target,' you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments.... Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the 'others' come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target...'

 "One acts decisively only in the conviction that all the angels are on one side and all the devils on the other."

The cynical, sinister rhetorical pattern of distraction, caricatured distortion, demonisation, disrespect, denigration and confusing polarisation are instantly recognisable. 

In particular, we must observe Alinsky's priority of power over the restraining counsel of what should/ ought to be done under principles of justice, mutual respect and concern.  Worse, we are neither angels nor demons, but finite, fallible, morally fallen human beings who -- at our best -- all struggle to do the right and live by the truth. So, a far better, far more honest approach for the would-be change agent or reformer is  Jesus' counsel in the Sermon on the Mount, its background context in Lev. 19:15 - 18, and Paul's own summary in Rom 13:8 - 10:

Matt 7:1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 7:2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. 7:3 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 7:4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? 7:5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 

Lev 19:15 “‘You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your fellow citizen fairly.19:16 You must not go about as a slanderer among your people. You must not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the Lord. 19:17 You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him.19:18 You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Rom 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 13:9 For the commandments, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet,” (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

And, let us never forget the intentional chilling effect of the slander tactic: anyone who correctively points out the principles of ethical change and rebukes the radicals on their ruthlessness, fallacious reasoning and closed minded destructiveness thereby makes himself a secondary target by "com[ing] out of the woodwork." 

In short, the Alinsky-ite radical is encouraged to not only be ruthlessly destructive but closed-minded, thus incorrigible by mere argument. 

So, s/he -- usually, "he" --can only be defeated, not corrected (unless by God's grace, s/he repents . . . ). 

For, s/he has decisively stepped outside the ambit of civility and moral control on behaviour.

Moreover, this pattern of closed minded ruthless amorality soon creates habits of oppressive abuse that predictably subvert the claimed end, "justice" -- now reduced to an emotional appeal and an ever-receeding mirage --  through the habituation in amoral and destructive behaviour as a means of choice. 

In short, such ruthless and deceptive political messsianism is inherently a false idolatrous messianism, and is inherently destructive.

This, sadly, also easily explains the usual outcome of such movements and their revolutions; as the all too many ghosts of victims of the totalitarian tyrannies of the past century warn us. (Let us never forget: there are well over 100 million victims of democides instituted by Communism and Nazism/ Fascism.)

When we must counter such destructigve agendas, we must in particular observe carefully and highlight the predictable effect of slanderously twisting moral principle and associated law or regulatory instruments and institutions by casting one principle against another to project a discrediting pall of hypocrisy, with intent to polarise, discredit and break down civil community -- as opposed to calling for corrective reformation along the lines of, say, a Wilberforce. (Kindly, make the time to read him in his own voice here.) This, in the teeth of the material -- and foundational Christian teaching addresses that materiality -- difference between the neighbourly duty of the citizen (or visitor) in a civil community and the task of the magistrate who has the duty of judgement and so also bears the protective sword of justice to defend the zone of civil peace within which we may -- and ought to -- live with one another based on mutual respect and responsibility. 

What a refreshing contrast do we find in Paul's summary of the ethics, goals, principles and praxis of properly Christian argument:

2 Cor 2:2 . . .  we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. [NIV]

2 Cor 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds, 5 [Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) . . . . 

Col. 2:3 In Him all the treasures of [divine] wisdom ([d]comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden. 4 I say this in order that no one may mislead and delude you by plausible and persuasive and attractive arguments and beguiling speech . . .  [AMP]

We must however address the practical matter of specifically exposing and countering the trifecta fallacy.  For, we must know how to respond effectively, stopping such a downward spiral into a confused  and destructive mess before it ends up in the sort of horror that Aristotle had in mind: the transformation of Athens' Areopagus high court into a kangaroo-court that under false colours of law, sent the septuagenarian Socrates to his death on grossly distorted and overblown charges. 

Aristiotle's hint on the appeals to ethos, pathos and logos reminds us that this is perhaps best done in steps:

1] Point out the nature of arguments, their main persuasive appeals (i.e. (a) Pathos: to emotions, (b) Ethos: to authority (i.e. I here read "character"/ "credibility" as broadly including what one knows and what one is willing to acknowledge that s/he does not know beyond reasonable doubt or rational dispute; i.e intellectual virtues vs. vices) and (c) Logos: to right reason grounded in true fact and valid logic), and the underlying strengths and limitations.  On this, Aristotle, classically, observed:

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question . . . . [The Rhetoric, Book I, Ch. 2]

2] Then, we may point out that, first and foremost, emotional appeals may be persuasive but are no better than the accuracy of the underlying perceptions and judgements. In particular, rage --as Aristotle so aptly pointed out -- is a notoriously blinding emotion; one that often leads to irrational and destructive actions. So, first of all, slander and subtler personal attacks must be put away, if we are at all concerned to reason with wisdom and basic civility.

3] Then, we may observe that while it is a necessity for most practical arguments [starting with the dictionary], no authority is better than his or her specific facts and reasoning in any given case. For instance, "science" is about inference to best current explanation/ model/ theory, and is therefore inherently provisional -- science is incapable of "proving" its theories beyond correction based on further research into the material facts, and discovery of logical or mathematical errors. That means that there is no proper basis for using "consensus of Scientists" or the like to answer to an issue in which the "consensus" may well be up against serious gaps in its explanatory adequacy.

4] Thus, in the end it is the facts and reasoning (and the underlying alternative worldview-level assumptions) that count: 

--> In the case of a deductive argument, that calls attention to the axioms or assumptions, and the step-by-step logic involved. Are claimed "facts" so, do they adequately represent all we need to know to make a good decision, and is the reasoning from those facts to conclusions valid?

--> On inductive or explanatory arguments, this calls for assessment of alternative explanations or hypotheses across factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory elegance and predictive power vs after-the-fact ad hocness on the one hand, and vs simplisticness on the other. 

--> For, paraphrasing Einstein and Occam: explanations should be as simple as possible, and should rely on as few assumptions as possible; but they must not be simpler than that. 

--> Last but not least, we should be humble enough about our finitude, ignorance and fallibility to be open to correction . . .

5] We can then assess what types of appeal are being made in the case in point, and how they are intended to work.  Then, we can call for at least onlookers to assess the case for themselves on the merits -- i.e. fair-mindedly, logically and in light of the material facts.

6] Persistence in closed-mindedness, refusal to engage on the merits and insistent resort to distractors and personal attacks will then stand exposed for the shabby tactics that they are.

Now, too, a key concrete example is always helpful to make a point clear:

B] Key case: Authenticity and the C1 NT (vs the C2 Gnostic "Gospels")

The context of New Testament studies is sufficiently important and of sufficient material interest in its own right as a special case to now focus on that particular form of the fallacy. Indeed, it is "one slice of the cake" that, proverbially, "has in it all the ingredients." So, for instance, we can see how Marx begins his argument in his key 1844 essay: "For Germany the criticism of religion [that is,  traditional Judaeo-Christian worldview based faiths] is in the main complete, and criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism." (Unfortunately for many millions over the past century and a half, the root of that claim is of course, precisely the sort of selective hyperskepticism we are here discussing.) 

Nor is that brash dismissal of "religion" without consequences -- consequences that were long since foreseen. For, we may read Heinrich Heine in the conclusion to his 1831 Religion and Philosophy in Germany, where he prophesied chillingly as follows:

Christianity — and that is its greatest merit — has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered [the Swastika, visually, is a twisted, broken cross . . .], the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Berserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame. …

The old stone gods will then rise from long ruins and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and Thor will leap to life with his giant hammer and smash the Gothic cathedrals. …

… Do not smile at my advice — the advice of a dreamer who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, and philosophers of nature. Do not smile at the visionary who anticipates the same revolution in the realm of the visible as has taken place in the spiritual. Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder. German thunder … comes rolling somewhat slowly, but … its crash … will be unlike anything before in the history of the world. …

At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in farthest Africa will draw in their tails and slink away. … A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.

By sharpest contrast to Marx et al, J P Holding of Tektonics tellingly points out that those who are inclined to dismiss conservative-supportive evidence on the dating, authenticity and authorship of the Gospels, Acts and other New Testament documents, seldom pause to note that, for instance, the authorship, dating and authenticity of Tacitus' Annals -- generally not challenged -- rests on a far more slender foundation. 

Going beyond that, we may make a comparison that demonstrates the outstianding quality of NT documentation relative to generally respected classical sources, courtesy McDowell's compilation [HT: JP Moreland]:

Table 1: Copies of Classical works

AuthorWhen WrittenEarliest CopyTime SpanNo. of Copies
Caesar100-44 900 A.D.1,000 yrs.10
Livy59 B.C.-A.D.

Plato (Tetralogies)427-347 B.C.900 A.D.1,200 yrs.7
Tacitus (Annals)100 A.D.1,100 A.D.1,000 yrs.20
 also minor works100 A.D.1,000 A.D.900 yrs.1
Pliny the Younger (History) 61-113 A.D.850 A.D..750 yrs.7
460-400 B.C.900 A.D.1,300 yrs.8
(De Vita Caesarum)
75-160 A.D.950 A.D.800 yrs.8
480-425 B.C.900 A.D.1,300 yrs.8

900 yrs.
Sophocles430-406 B.C.1,000 A.D.1,400 yrs.100
LucretiusDied 55 or 53 B.C .
1,100 yrs.2
Catullus54 B.C.1,550 A.D.1,600 yrs.3
Euripedes480-406 B.C.1,100 A.D.1,500 yrs.9
Demosthenes383-322 B.C.1,100 A.D.1,300 yrs.200*
Aristotle384-322 B.C.1,100 A.D.1,400 yrs.5**
Aristophanes450-385 B .C.900 A. D.1,200 yrs.10
*All from one copy. **Of any one work.
From Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, rev ed. (San Bernardino, Calif.: Here's Life,1979), p. 42.

Moreland goes on to observe:

A brief perusal of the table indicates that for a representative sample of ancient historical works, we possess only a handful of manuscripts which are, on the average, one thousand years removed from their originals.

In contrast to this, the New Testament documents have a staggering quantity of manuscript attestation. [6] Approximately 5,000 Greek manuscripts, containing all or part of the New Testament, exist. There are 8,000 manuscript copies of the Vulgate (a Latin translation of the Bible done by Jerome from 382-405) and more than 350 copies of Syriac (Christian Aramaic) versions of the New Testament (these originated from 150-250; most of the copies are from the 400s+). Besides this, virtually the entire New Testament could be reproduced from citations contained in the works of the early church fathers. There are some thirty-two thousand citations in the writings of the Fathers prior to the Council of Nicea (325).

The dates of the manuscript copies range from early in the second century to the time of the Reformation. Many of the manuscripts are early-for example, the John Rylands manuscript (about 120; it was found in Egypt and contains a few verses from the Gospel of John), the Chester Beatty Papyri (200; it contains major portions of the New Testament), Codex Sinaiticus (350; it contains virtually all of the New Testament), and Codex Vaticanus (325-50; it contains almost the entire Bible).

In short, if one were to treat the NT like other "serious" classical works -- some of which, by the way, do contain references to the perceived miraculous -- then the NT would be highly credible. And, if one were to treat the classical works instead as roughly as the NT MSS are too often treated, almost the whole discipline of Classsical Studies would be swept away in one go. So, we plainly see in this indefensible inconsistentcy the telltale marks of selective hyperskepticism.

The situation is so bad, and has been so for so long, that the well-known historian A N Sherwin-White went on record as follows in the 1960 - 61 Sarum Lectures at the University of London:

It is astonishing that while Graeco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospel narratives, starting from the no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn in the development of form-criticism that the more advanced exponents of it apparently maintain-so far as an amateur can understand the matter-that the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of His mission cannot be written. This seems very curious when one compares the case for the best-known contemporary of Christ, who like Christ is a well-documented figure-Tiberius Caesar. The story of his reign is known from four sources, the Annals of Tacitus and the biography of Suetonius, written some eighty or ninety years later, the brief contemporary record of Velleius Paterculus, and the third century history of Cassius Dio. These disagree amongst themselves in the wildest possible fashion, both in major matters of political action or motive and in specific details of minor events. Everyone would admit that Tacitus is the best of all the sources, and yet no serious modern historian would accept at face value the majority of the statements of Tacitus about the motives of Tiberius. But this does not prevent the belief that the material of Tacitus can be used to write a history of Tiberius. [Cited, J W Montgomery, The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity. (NB: This essay is a contemporary update to Greeneaf's work cited above.)]

The magisterial New Testament Scholar, John Wenham, in his Christ and the Bible, gives us an overview of how this happened, and its consequences and conundrums:

H. E. W. Turner [16] has distinguished two basic approaches to the Gospels: the historical and the interpretative. The former believes that the Gospels were intended to be historical records, the latter that they were essentially propaganda, written to present a particular view of Jesus. The former assumes that the records are true unless good reason can be showed to the contrary; the latter assumes the opposite. The attitude of Bultmann and his school to a Gospel-saying has been summarised as . . . '(1) If it reflects the faith of the church after the resurrection, it must be regarded as a creation of the church, rather than an authentic saying of Jesus. (2) If there is a parallel saying attributed to a Rabbi, it must be held as a Jewish tradition which has been erroneously attributed to Jesus. But if it is neither -- if it is clearly distinct both from the faith of the church and from Judaism -- then it may be safely accepted as authentic.' [17] This means of course that any appeal to Scripture by Jesus is at once suspect. This approach produces an improbable view of both Jesus and the early church. Jesus becomes an eccentric who took almost nothing from his environment. The church becomes inexplicable, since it took almost nothing from its master. Rather it so altered what it received from him that its teaching can be seen in sharp contrast to the few sayings which it preserved. [Christ and the Bible, (Guilford, Surrey, England: Eagle, 1993), pp. 45 - 46. Emphasis added.]
16: H. E. W. Turner, Historicity of the Gospels (London, 1963)
17: R. H. Fuller, Interpreting the Miracles (London, 1963), pp. 26f.

Of course, the result is a patent absurdity: the Christian church as we have known it over the past 20 centuries simply could not have come into existence other than through the impact of the life and ministry of Jesus, and in turn Jesus' ministry would have never been accepted as messianic-prophetic by a significant cross-section of the Jewish community -- the critical mass that formed the nucleus of the church in the 30's AD -- unless he clearly stood within the Hebrew faith-tradition, ministering as an anointed prophetic/apocalyptic figure. However, through selective hyperskeptical assumptions, that is what we are being invited to believe: a messianic movement that failed to follow what its principal teacher taught, and a messianic religious leader who drew followers into his movement while being radically isolated from his Jewish environment -- which, especially in its prophetic scriptures [cf. Lk 4:14 - 21, 9:1 - 36], set up the expectation for such a messiah to emerge. In short, we can easily see the bankruptcy of such a "guilty unless proved innocent" approach.

Paul Barnett, in his Is the New Testament History?, provides a better place to start, by giving us a resume of the the consensus view of early non-Christian sources from late C1 to early C2, on the roots of the Christian faith and its characteristics:

On the basis of . . . non-Christian sources [i.e. Tacitus (Annals, on the fire in Rome, AD 64; written ~ AD 115), Rabbi Eliezer (~ 90's AD; cited J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1929), p. 34), Pliny (Letters to Trajan from Bithynia, ~ AD 112), Josephus (Antiquities, ~ 90's)] it is possible to draw the following conclusions:

    1. Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judaea during the period where Tiberius was Emperor (AD 14 - 37) and Pontius Pilate was Governor (AD 26 - 36). [Tacitus]
    2. The movement spread from Judaea to Rome. [Tacitus]
    3. Jesus claimed to be God and that he would depart and return. [Eliezer]
    4. His followers worshipped him as (a) god. [Pliny]
    5. He was called "the Christ." [Josephus]
    6. His followers were called "Christians." [Tacitus, Pliny]
    7. They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome [Tacitus, Pliny]
    8. It was a world-wide movement. [Eliezer]
    9. His brother was James. [Josephus]

[Is the New Testament History? (London, Hodder, 1987), pp. 30 - 31.]

The pattern in these corroborating sources is instantly familiar; that is, the NT accounts plainly fit into a recognisable historical pattern of facts credibly established through a range of quite early non-Christian sources on the C1 origins, claims and spreading of the Christian movement; though of course the primary Christian sources give far more details than one would expect from sources that mention such facts in passing as they go on to make their own points. That corroboration should not be surprising, given that (as Barnett goes on to observe, pp. 37 - 41) in the very first cluster of writing sub-apostolic church fathers -- Clement of Rome [c. AD 96], Ignatius [c. 108] and Polycarp [c. 110], 25 of the 27 books in the New Testament are cited or alluded to, as authentic and authoritative scripture [only the two rather brief works, 2 Jn and Jude, are not cited or alluded to]; so the subsequent textual history of the NT documents begins in the 90's, i.e. within living memory of the Apostles, and it continues in an unbroken chain of custody to the origin of printing.

This chain of custody and independent corroboration decisively undercut the arguments of the remaining fringe of radical scholars and skeptical popular writers who would date these works to ~ 100 - 160, intending to reduce their credit to that of the C2 Gnostic pseudonymous "Gospels," such as the Thomas and Peter often used by the Jesus Seminar, that of Mary referred to in the Da Vinci Code novel (and soon to be released movie) [also cf here, and if you wish a more personal and detailed look by JPH of Tektonics, here] and now Judas (published Easter 2006). For, there is no good reason to doubt that the NT documents, considered as a body, are authentically rooted in and accurately reflect the core message, teachings and general history of the C1 church.

On this, Moreland gives some interesting observations:

Critical historiography studies, among other things, the different tests which should be applied to a document to determine whether or not it is historically reliable. [4] When many of these tests are applied to the New Testament documents, they show themselves to be as reliable as, or superior to, most other ancient documents.

For example, apologists have often appealed to three general tests for historicity: the bibliographical test, the internal test, and the external test. The internal test asks whether the document itself claims to be actual history written by eyewitnesses . . .  The external test asks whether material external to the document (in this case, archaeology or the writings of the early church fathers) confirms the reliability of the document . . .  it should be pointed out that the New Testament has been remarkably confirmed time and again by external evidence. This is not to say there are no problems; but to the unbiased observer, little doubt can be cast on the statement that archaeology has confirmed the [general] historical reliability of the New Testament. [5] . . . . 

As Louis Gottschalk points out, "[A primary source] does not . . .  need to be original in the legal sense of the word original -- that is, the very document (usually the first written draft) whose contents are the subject of discussion -- for quite often a later copy or a printed edition [NB: by a reputable publisher!] will do just as well; and in the case of the Greek and Roman classics seldom are any but later copies available." [8] . . . . 

Prima facie it would seem that a strong case could be made for the fact that much of the New Testament, including the Gospels and the sources behind them, was written by eyewitnesses. This is mentioned explicitly in a number of places (Luke 1:1-4; Gal. 1; 2 Peter 1:16). Further, apostolic position in the early church was widely known to include the qualification of being an eyewitness (Acts 1:21-22; Heb. 2:3), a qualification which shows that the early church valued the testimony of eyewitnesses and believed she had eyewitnesses leading her. The early speeches in Acts refer to the knowledge of unbelieving audiences (e. g., Acts 2:22), and no historian I know of doubts that Christianity started in Jerusalem just a few weeks after the death of Jesus in the presence of friendly and hostile eyewitnesses. Finally, there is indirect testimony to eyewitness evidence in the Gospels. For example, if a number of pronouns in Mark (see 1:21, 29) are changed from the third-person plural they to the first-person plural we, they can easily be seen as eyewitness reminiscences of Peter, who gave Mark much of the material for his Gospel . . . . 

Several reasons can be offered for trusting these claims. First, as Gottschalk reminds us, a document should be assumed trustworthy unless, under burden of proof, it is shown to be unreliable. [11] As Immanuel Kant showed long ago, a general presumption of lying is self-refuting, since if such a presumption is universalized (one always assumes someone is lying) lying becomes pointless (lying is impossible without a general presumption of truthtelling). [12] . . . . 

Second . . . . [i]t seems clear that the New Testament writers were able and willing to tell the truth. They had very little to gain and much to lose for their efforts. For one thing, they were mostly Jewish theists. To change the religion of Israel with its observance of the Mosaic law, Sabbath keeping, sacrifices, and clear-cut non-Trinitarian monotheism would be to risk the damnation of their own souls to hell. A modern atheist may not worry about such a thing, but members of the early church surely did. For another thing, the apostles lived lives of great hardship, stress, and affliction (see 2 Cor. 11:23-29) and died martyrs' deaths for their convictions. There is no adequate motive for their labors other than a sincere desire to proclaim what they believed to be the truth.

Third, the presence of adverse eyewitnesses would have hampered the spread of Christianity. Christianity began, and remained for sometime, in the same area where Jesus had ministered. If the early portrait of him was untrue, how could the apostles have succeeded there? Why would they have begun there in the first place?

Fourth, if the New Testament picture of Jesus was not based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, how could a consistent tradition about him ever have been formed and written? . . . .

[T]he Uppsala school holds that the Jesus tradition was shaped consciously by the same principles that governed the shaping of Jewish oral tradition in general. According to this view, Jesus was an authoritative teacher or rabbi who trained his disciples to be his apprentices. In keeping with the practices of their orally oriented culture, they were capable of accurately memorizing massive amounts of material. The disciples of Jesus took great care to memorize his teachings and deeds (they may have written down some of the material as well), and saw their responsibility as guardians of the tradition. Their role was to pass on the tradition faithfully and substantially unaltered. The Gospels, therefore, are in large measure the written results of a process of handling the tradition which preserved its accuracy.

Several arguments can be advanced to support this view. For one thing, Jesus' relation to his disciples was similar to that of Jewish rabbis to their pupils. [23] Second, the Gospels arose primarily in a Jewish milieu where there was respect for holy tradition and oral transmission. Third, this view explains the role of an apostle and his authority as it is presented in the New Testament, namely, as an authoritative, eyewitness guardian of the UP, tradition. Fourth, it explains the way the New Testament writers themselves refer to their own view of the way they handled the tradition about Jesus (see 1 Cor. 15:3-8; Gal. 2:1-10; Col. 2:7; 1 Thess. 2:13). When they refer to the way they handled the material about Jesus, they say that they "delivered over" to others exactly what they "received" These terms are the ones used in Jewish oral tradition to describe the way such tradition was passed on.

It seems, then, that the early disciples of Jesus wrote down some of Jesus' sayings and deeds, memorized a great deal of his teaching (they were capable of this in that culture), and passed it on with accuracy. [From: "The Historicity of the New Testament," a chapter from Scaling the Secular City by JP Moreland. Baker, 2007. More.]

Thus, it is plainly time for a fresh, more open-minded look at the NT. 

And so, once we abandon the self-refuting hermeneutics of selectively hyperskeptical suspicion, we can observe how Luke-Acts breaks off its account [which amply fits in with archaeological discoveries, even on a great many fine points of detail] in AD 62, with Paul as an appellate prisoner in Rome, and does not address major subsequent events such as the deaths of James [62 AD], Peter [~ 65], Paul [~ 67], or the Jewish revolt [66 - ~73]; and thus the resulting final alientation between the Jewish and Christian communities in Jerusalem as well as the destruction of the Temple [70]. These are most credibly explained as being due to the completion date of that document: ~ 62 AD; which immediately suggests a life-situation for its origin -- being at least in part based on a supportive document for Paul's appeal to Nero (which makes sense of its rather abrupt end before that appeal is resolved, and of the way in which Roman figures consistently are portrayed in a positive light). Luke, in turn, is the "prequel," so the logic leads to a date for Luke of ~ 60 AD.

Luke, in its own turn, uses Mark extensively as a trusted source, credibly dating Mark to the 40's - 50's. Further to this, the Passion narrative in Mark in an offhand way speaks of "the High Priest" who tried Jesus as being still in office, suggesting that his part dates to at most 37 AD, when he left office. Similarly, the summary account of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection and its theological significance in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 records the church's "official" testimony in a form dating to the 30's [when Paul received the account at the hand of the Jerusalem community, before which he successfully defended his teachings in 48 - 49]. The summary was written down c. 55 as a decisive point in common in a controversy on the general resurrection of the dead, appealing to the common message of the apostolic circle that the Corinthians knew, dating back to c. 50. But, the Pauline corpus and Lk-Ac, with Mk, collectively tell us the core message and history of the early church, and lay out the bulk of its theology [especially concerning the person and work of Christ], thus defining and dating the origins of the Christian faith as being in the first generation of the church, i.e. 30 - 70 AD. 

In this context, the commonly held view that the writings of John date to the end of that Apostle's life, i.e. the 90's, would reinforce our confidence, as the major point of correction he seemed to have in mind in his Gospel was to scotch the rumour that he would not die! In this context, since the likely provenance of John is Ephesus, and since the famous Rylands fragment recovered in Egypt, has been dated to c. 125, the C1 dating of the NT should be regarded as secure; which speaks powerfully in favour of its fundamental historical credibility. (NB: Cf. also, here, for a response to the commonly promoted idea that the passion accounts are so fundamentally mutually contradictory that they would be laughed out of court.)

So also, we need to pause and reckon wih the full force of Paul's AD 55 report to the Corinthians about the just mentioned "official" summary of the church's witness, tracing to the mid 30's AD when Paul visited Jerusalem and discussed key matters with the apostolic leaders; within walking distance of Jesus' former tomb, right there in the stronghold of the thern leading enemies of the church -- of which circle of opponents that very same Paul had formerly been a prominent, murderously militant member:

1 Cor15:1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures [cf. the 700+ BC Is 52:13 - 53:12 & Acts 8:26 -40], 15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 15:6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 15:8 Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 15:11 Whether then it was I or they, this is the way we preach and this is the way you believed. [Read the whole chapter to see how Paul used this core fact to address the disputed matters.]

Recall, Paul is here addressing matters of controversy within the C1 church, and is doing so by here appealing to facts indisputably known in common, facts that rest on the testimony of over 500 witnesses; most of whom were then alive c. 55 AD -- the great Roman persecutions were still a decade and more in the future, and of which we can identify about twenty. None of these witnesses were ever broken, not even in the face of fire, sword and the horrible, shameful death by public crucifixion.

Indeed, the first named witness, Peter -- tellingly, called (archaically) by a "Greek-ified" form of the original, Aramaic version, Kepha --  is reported to have requested that he be nailed up upside down, as he was unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. The steadfast, life-transforming sincerity and spiritual power of such witnesses is not credibly in dispute, and the various alternative dismissive theories so confidently offerd by the C18 Deists and their successors, have deservedly fallen by the wayside. Worse, it is plain that the current favourite, "visions," boils down to that which is a known psychological impossibility: collective hallucinations, of a man who conversed, taught, cooked breakfast for and ate with the inner circle, even inviting the proverbially doubting Thomas to insert his fingers and hand into the fearsome but now powerless wounds.

In recent years, following Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, C
hristian scholars have often appealed to the serious inquirer through the "minimal facts" argument:

Instead of assuming that the New Testament is divinely inspired, it only allows well attested evidence that the majority of scholars accept, and then works from this base. That way, if someone attacks the sources you are using, you know that they are out of step, not only with conservative scholars, but also sceptical scholars . . . Habermas has compiled a list of some 2,200 sources (both sceptical and conservative), and identified a list of 12 facts which are considered historical by the large majority of experts, even skeptical scholars . . . .

The minimal facts method only uses sources which are multiply attested, and agreed to by a majority of scholars (ranging from atheist to conservative). This requires that they have one or more of the following criteria which are relevant to textual criticism:

    1. Multiple sources - If two or more sources attest to the same fact, it is more likely authentic

    2. Enemy attestation - If the writers enemies corroborate a given fact, it is more likely authentic

    3. Principle of embarrassment - If the text embarrasses the writer, it is more likely authentic

    4. Eyewitness testimony - First hand accounts are to be prefered
      Early testimony - an early account is more likely accurate than a later one

Having first established the well attested facts, the approach then argues that the best explanation of these agreed to facts is the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . . 

Gary Habermas uses up to 12 minimal facts including:
  1. Jesus' death by crucifixion

  2. An early belief in resurrection

  3. The resurrection appearances experienced by disciples

  4. Paul’s appearance and change of heart

  5. James’s (Jesus’ brother) change of heart

  6. The empty tomb

The following is a list of events used by William Lane Craig in his debate with Bart Ehrman[3]:

  1. Jesus’ burial

  2. The discovery of his empty tomb

  3. Jesus' post-mortem appearances

  4. The origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.

NT Wright focusses on the remarkable changes in the beliefs and practises of first century Jews in Jerusalem [4]:

  1. The empty tomb

  2. The appearances to various people

  3. 7 changes in Jewish doctrine and practise.

[. . . . ]

Once you have presented the facts, the argument proceeds by showing that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of the facts. To do that, simply show that this explanation is consistent with all the facts presented above. Often the person will choose to present an alternative hypothesis. Carefully examine it to see if it fits with all the available facts. [As a rule, it will be dramatically inferior, once before- the- fact anti-superantural biased assumptions are not allowed to prejudice outcomes.]

[Source: "Minimal facts" From Apologetics Wiki. Full article: here. Also cf Habermas' paper here, his more extensive discussion here, a popular level summary here, another one here, and correctives to now commonly met distorted claims of pagan dying and rising gods intended to lead the listener or reader to think the NT accounts were similarly mythical and merely "copied" from pagan sources: here [Tammuz, Adonis], here [Osiris], & here [Mithras].  Glen Miller's more detailed survey in the copycat assertions is well worth reading in full, starting here. (The live exchange in a Caribbean blog here shows how these ideas can distort the ability of many otherwise informed people to hear and heed the gospel -- especially when multiplied by racial identity ideologies such as Afrocentrism (also cf. here, here (on the "race" of ancient Egyptians), here (on Egyptian vs biblical timelines, cf. suggested chronologies here and here); and here (on the Exodus), also here on Genesis 14 as the first major point of intersection between the Biblical account of the patriarchs and general ANE history, which shows both Abraham and Melchizedek's monotheism c. 1800 BC, i.e. several centuries before Atenakhen's sun god religious revolution in Egypt in an astonishingly accurate general historical and archaeological context)]

So, as British barrister Frank Morison highlights, it is plainly quite tenable -- though obviously not fashionable in radical skeptical circles -- to hold that a "guilty unless proven innocent" Bultmann-style proposed model of Christian origins simply fails to account for the facts and dynamic force behind the rise of the church as a movement that began in Palestine in the mid-C1, and rapidly spread from there across the Graeco-Roman world, triumphing over all odds:

[N]ow the peculiar thing . . . is that not only did [belief in Jesus' resurrection as in part testified to by the empty tomb] spread to every member of the Party of Jesus of whom we have any trace, but they brought it to Jerusalem and carried it with inconceivable audacity into the most keenly intellectual centre of Judaea . . . and in the face of every impediment which a brilliant and highly organised camarilla could devise. And they won. Within twenty years the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish Church and impressed itself upon every town on the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean from Caesarea to Troas. In less than fifty years it had began to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire . . . . Why did it win? . . . . We have to account not only for the enthusiasm of its friends, but for the paralysis of its enemies and for the ever growing stream of new converts . . . When we remember what certain highly placed personages would almost certainly have given to have strangled this movement at its birth but could not - how one desperate expedient after another was adopted to silence the apostles, until that veritable bow of Ulysses, the Great Persecution, was tried and broke in pieces in their hands [the chief persecutor became the leading C1 Missionary/Apostle!] - we begin to realise that behind all these subterfuges and makeshifts there must have been a silent, unanswerable fact. [Who Moved the Stone, (Faber, 1971; nb. orig. pub. 1930), pp. 114 - 115.]

C] The Root Problem -- Radical Skepticism

Plainly, the fallacy of selective hyperskepticism is sufficiently important that it is profitable to pause and explore its roots, so that we may see why and how it goes wrong. Descartes' thinking is the proper place to begin. For, in 1640, Descartes, in his Meditations on First Philosophy, noted that:

It is now some years since I detected how many were the false beliefs that I had from my earliest youth admitted as true, and how doubtful was everything I had since constructed on this basis . . . [So I] must once for all seriously undertake to rid myself of all the opinions which I formerly accepted, and commence to build anew from the foundations, if I wanted to establish any firm and permanent structures in the sciences . . . . reason already persuades me that I ought no less carefully to withhold my assent from matters which are not entirely certain and indubitable than from those which appear to me to be manifestly false, if I am able to find in each one some reason to doubt, this will suffice to justify my rejecting the whole.

Of course, famously, he went on to assert that he doubts his existence, but in so doing, he is thinking; so, he must exist. However, "I doubt my existence. But, to doubt is to think, and to think is to exist,” implicitly assumes the continuity of an I that can think, remember and perceive veridically. Is that indubitably certain, given the imperfections and uncertainties of our senses, memory, reasoning process and perceptions? And, . . . ?

That is, we are here facing an infinite regress of doubts and challenges, so the Descartes project reduces to absurdity and thus becomes self-referentially inconsistent. That is, it contradicts and so refutes itself. A wiser approach is to:

(i) Implicitly trust the general (as opposed to absolute) reliability of our common-sense, intuitive mental faculties [as Thomas Reid championed in C18 in rebuttal to David Hume's empiricist skepticism];

(ii) Exert what William James called the will to believe [replying to W K Clifford's C19 Evidentialism], as we make forced, momentous choices among the live options open to us.

(iii) Use this necessity of trust or faith as a basis for rejecting as implying absurdities such arguments or worldviews as may entail the general untrustworthiness of our common-sense mental faculties: if R then NOT-Q, but Q, so NOT-R, i.e. denying the consequent to reject the antecedent, is perfectly valid. Symbolically:

R => (NOT-Q); but Q, so NOT-R

(iv) Resist the temptation to exert such radical skepticism selectively and inconsistently (i.e. to reject those beliefs we find implausible relative to our worldview preferences by demanding an inappropriate degree of evidence relative to what is warranted by the nature of the case). When such worldview-level issues arise, we should instead entertain comparative difficulties across the live options.

(v) Tom Morris also adds the principle of conservation of beliefs (also called the principle of credulity), as a counter-weight to such unbridled radical skepticism. In essence, the principle asserts that: it makes good sense to stick with your current body of beliefs -- and to have confidence that your basic belief forming mechanisms are generally reliable -- unless there are compelling reasons to accept a radical alternative (e.g. credibly discovering that you are living in the modern equivalent of Plato's Cave). [Philosophy for Dummies (NY: Hungry Minds, 1999), pp. 72 – 80.]

In short, it is quite rational to open-mindedly hold to certain core beliefs -- and to generally trust our basic belief-forming mechanisms -- without asking for proof or evidence: such beliefs are properly basic.

D] The Underlying Challenge: Evidentialism

In 1879, W K Clifford (in his influential "Ethics of Belief") proposed the principle that "it is wrong always, anywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." Lectures and Essays, (London: Macmillan, 1886), p. 346.] (This maxim is the root of the commonly encountered claim today, that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.")

While it is superficially appealing, Clifford's Maxim [CM] is actually fatally flawed:

  1. Self-referentiality: First, since it is a claim about ALL beliefs, i.e. including itself, why should we accept CM? What would constitute adequate evidence -- proof based on indubitable facts and logic -- for it that does not either (a) beg the question [i.e. by implicitly assuming CM (or some underlying claim)to prove CM (or that claim)] or (b) contradict itself or (c) fall into an infinite regress of "why should we accept"(s)? And in fact, it arguably falls into (c) -- for each successive reason to accept CM, there is plainly a need for yet further evidence. (Indeed, even if it were argued at some stage, say Q, that Q is self-evident, that raises the question, since CM is proposed as a global criterion, on what adequate evidence is that self-evidence being claimed? And, the chain of challenges begins again . . .) Thus CM also falls into (b) as it is plainly impossible for finite and fallible mortals such as us to satisfy the criterion it specifies. It is self-referentially inconsistent.

  2. The Common-Sense Test: Historically, the first serious reply to CM was posed by William James, who argued that, first, the CM fails what we can call the common-sense test; i.e. there are a great many beliefs that people have a perfect and proper right to have, without further proof or evidence. For instance, as Ronald Nash summarises: "We believe in the existence of other minds; we believe that the world continues to exist even when we are not perceiving it . . . If we followed Clifford and eliminated from our noetic structure all beliefs for which no proof or evidence is supplied, we would lose our right to affirm a large number of important claims that only a fool would question. And so it is clear that we have a right to believe some things without evidence or proof." [Faith and Reason (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), p. 73. Emphasis in original.]

  3. The Will to Believe: James' main argument in his essay, The Will to Believe, considers options on core beliefs: living/dead, forced/avoidable, momentous/trivial. If a belief is about a matter that is a living, forced, momentous -- i.e. genuine -- option, then we cannot duck it and so must choose which alternative we will accept. Thus, "our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must decide an option between propositions . . . "Do not decide, but leave the question open," is itself a passional decision, -- just like deciding yes or no, -- and is attended with the same risk of losing the truth." [p. 11, cited, K J Clarke, Return to Reason, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 105.] So, as Clarke sums up, "One does not have a right to make a passional decision with just any belief; rather James restricts the right to . . . those that are living, forced and momentous . . . The best example of nongenuine options are decisions in science where the choice is not forced; one may withhold judgment indefinitely." So, in James' own words, "Whenever the option between losing truth and gaining it is not momentous, we can throw the chance of gaining truth away, and at any rate save ourselves from any chance of believing falsehood, by not making up our minds at all." [WTB, pp. 19 - 20.]

  4. Rational Tentativeness, Provisionality and Eclecticism: James aptly pointed out that there are situations where reasonable doubt is a defensible option. That is, particularly in matters of science and technology, there is room for rational tentativeness about particular fact-claims, theories and models. Indeed, sometimes an eclectic approach that views such claims as probably true in some cases and as merely useful but not necessarily true frameworks for modelling the world in other cases, is wise. For, a false explanatory framework of thought -- i.e. we are seeing science here as a case of abductive reasoning -- can often logically imply or predict true consequences in the observed world, and so scientific reasoning and knowledge claims should be viewed as open-ended or provisional. That is, the mere fact that a particular theory or model is practically useful in describing, explaining, predicting and/or influencing events in the natural and/or human worlds is not at all a demonstration of its ultimate or even approximate truth. The capital example in point is Newtonian Dynamics, which gave every sign of being true from the 1680's to the 1880's, but then was found wanting in dealing with the very small and the very fast between 1880 and 1930, leading to Quantum theory and Relativity. Thus, scientific knowledge claims should be viewed as provisional -- subject to correction in light of further analysis or discovery. (In that context, it may be wise to be open to alternatives and cool down the rhetoric and resist the temptation to censorship and uncharitable personal attacks on contentious scientific issues, especially origins science questions such as Intelligent Design vs the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Macroevolution.]

  5. Narrow vs Broad Foundationalism: Alvin Plantinga extends these themes by considering the appropriate foundation of our belief systems, i.e. what are properly basic -- first level -- beliefs; those not held because they are implied by other prior beliefs? Narrow foundationalists argue that such beliefs must be one of: self-evident, evident to the senses and/or incorrigible. That is, [I] we have a right to believe those things which: (a) are plainly true once we understand the concepts and their relationships and/or for which the denial leads to self-contradiction; or, are (b) the deliverances of our senses functioning normally and in their proper environment; or, are (c) of the order of "I seem to see a red ball on the table" when one is truthfully reporting one's perception. Then, the project is to [II] only hold such other beliefs as are implied by properly basic beliefs meeting the criteria (a), (b) or (c). As Clarke summarises, Plantinga does not disagree that one has a perfect right to such beliefs, but points out that:

    First, the narrow foundationalist project is self-referential and the belief set {[I] and [II]} is neither properly basic relative to (a), (b) or (c) itself; nor, to date has it been shown to be implied by other such properly basic beliefs. (Indeed, so narrow is the scope of beliefs under the three criteria that it is unlikely that this can be done.) That is, we can comfortably hold narrow foundationalism self-referentially inconsistent, absent such an unlikely proof.

    Second, the criteria fail the common-sense test, e.g. they exclude the perfectly rational and proper memory belief that one had breakfast this morning; as well as a host of other beliefs that only a fool would find it irrational to hold.

    Third, plainly, there is therefore no good reason to restrict the scope of properly basic beliefs as (a), (b) and (c) set out to do. Plantinga proposes that for instance, memory beliefs, beliefs about the external world, acceptance of testimony [from a trusted source], and belief in God [perhaps, due to one's encounter with him], among others, can be recognised as non-inferential and rational to hold (thus, properly basic) on a case by case basis -- even where, as yet, we have no general criterion.

E] A Better Approach: Reasonable Faith

Perhaps the simplest way to pull these threads of thought together, is to start with an abstract example, say, claim A. Why should we accept it? Generally, because of B. But, why should we accept B? Thence, C, D, . . . etc. Thus, we face either an infinite regress of challenges, or else we stop at some point, say F -- our Faith-Point:

A <-- B <-- C <-- D < -- . . . F

At F, we may face the challenge of circularity vs proper basicality: are we simply begging the question, thus inevitably irrational in the end?

In fact, no:

  1. Reason embeds faith: We have seen above, that reason and belief -- indeed, faith -- are inextricably intertwined in our thought lives. In G K Chesterton's words, "It is idle to talk always of the alternatives reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith." [cited, Clarke, p. 123.] For, if we must inevitably take some things on trust, we cannot escape exerting faith; i.e. the question is not whether we have faith, but: in what or in whom should we repose our trust?

  2. Some beliefs are properly basic: Though of course, our trust in certain things is provisional, we plainly have a perfect right to believe a great many things non-inferentially. (Indeed, this is the largest single bloc of our beliefs -- consider for a moment how many sense impressions you had today, and how many of them you for very good reason took as accurate without even an instant's hesitation.) And, as James pointed out, in contexts where alternatives are forced, momentous and live, we not only have a further right to make a passional decision as to which alternative to accept, but we cannot avoid choosing some option or other.

  3. We may compare alternative Worldviews: Worldviews are clusters of core beliefs about important things concerning ourselves, the world and ultimate reality. Notoriously, they bristle with difficulties and unresolved challenges. But, if we compare faith-points F1, F2, F3 . . . Fn, relative to (1) factual adequacy, (2) coherence and (3) simplicity/ ad hocness/ simplistic-ness, we can make a rational choice of our faith-points across live options. Thus, we are not reduced to vicious circularity.

  4. We may recognise appropriate degrees of warrant: When we assess arguments, we can recognise that there is a gradation in degree of warrant that is possible for given classes of cases, as Simon Greenleaf has pointed out -- as have many others all the way back to Aristotle. So, where logical or mathematical demonstration is possible, we can insist on that. Where only moral evidence is possible, i.e. on matters of fact, we can respect that. When we come to basic beliefs, we can evaluate whether or not the belief is properly basic -- at least on a case by case basis -- by comparing the new belief with others that are already credibly deemed so. [For instance, Plantinga has argued that believing in God requires a similar process to that which leads us to believe in other minds.]

This approach can be properly termed, reasonable faith.

With this result in hand, we may now also pause to address a small but important puzzle: why did Jesus mildly rebuke Thomas Didymus when he insisted that except he were permitted to physically inspect the wounds in Our Lord's body, he would not believe in the resurrection?

Let us look at the record:

JN 20:24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."

JN 20:26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

JN 20:28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

JN 20:29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

JN 20:30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Vv. 24 - 25 reveal the key to the puzzle: Thomas, who has been one of the core group of disciples for several years, and who happened to be absent when Jesus appeared to the group of disciples that first Easter Sunday evening, refused to believe their collective testimony (and, we may infer, the implications of the by then notoriously empty tomb). Instead, he demanded to physically inspect Jesus' wounds. That is, far from being a paragon of epistemic virtue, he was in the position of one who refused to believe credible testimony and accessible corroborating physical evidence -- which is, by dint of the finitude and fallibility of human nature, the only access to most of history that we have a right to expect.

So, while Jesus did graciously grant him his request, Our Risen Lord was entirely justified to advert to the fact that we cannot properly demand direct physical access to historical events as a condition of believing them. Therefore, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet [having heard and heeded credible testimony and record, cf. vv 30 - 31!] have believed." And, indeed, millions across twenty centuries (including the author of this note) have done so, and have indeed experienced the miracle of the new birth and its result: eternal life -- JN 17:3: "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" -- just as Jesus promised.

That is, we plainly have an epistemic duty to respond appropriately to credible evidence, through exercising reasonable faith.

F] Some Rules for the Road:

In exercising such reasonable faith relating to matters of fact [e.g. the credibility of the NT accounts], perhaps the list of time-tested, common-sense based principles of wise reasoning worked out in Courts of Law over the centuries and collected by Simon Greenleaf in his assessment of the testimony of the evangelists -- cf. also his Evidence, Vols I, II and III [these, at Gutenberg] -- may prove useful:

1] THE ANCIENT DOCUMENTS RULE: Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise. [p.16.]

2] Conversance: In matters of public and general interest, all persons must be presumed to be conversant, on the principle that individuals are presumed to be conversant with their own affairs. [p. 17.]

3] On Inquiries and Reports: If [a report] were "the result of inquiries, made under competent public authority, concerning matters in which the public are concerned" it would . . . be legally admissible . . . To entitle such results, however, to our full confidence, it is not necessary that they be obtained under a legal commission; it is sufficient if the inquiry is gravely undertaken and pursued, by a person of competent intelligence, sagacity and integrity. The request of a person in authority, or a desire to serve the public, are, to all moral intents, as sufficient a motive as a legal commission. [p. 25.]

4] Probability of Truthfulness: In trials of fact, by oral testimony, the proper inquiry is not whether it is possible that the testimony may be false, but whether there is a sufficient probability that it is true. [p. 28.]

5] Criteria of Proof: A proposition of fact is proved, when its truth is established by competent and satisfactory evidence. By competent evidence is meant such as the nature of the thing to be proved requires; and by satisfactory evidence is meant that amount of proof, which ordinarily satisfies an unprejudiced mind, beyond any reasonable doubt. [pp. 28 - 9.]

6] Credibility of Witnesses: In the absence of circumstances which generate suspicion, every witness is to be presumed credible, until the contrary is shown; the burden of impeaching his credibility lying on the objector. [p. 29]

7] Credit due to testimony: The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances. [p.31.]

8] Ability of a Witness to speak truth: the ability of a witness to speak the truth depends on the opportunities which he has had for observing the facts, the accuracy of his powers of discerning, and the faithfulness of his memory in retaining the facts, once observed and known . . . It is always to be presumed that men are honest, and of sound mind, and of the average and ordinary degree of intelligence . . . Whenever an objection is raised in opposition to ordinary presumptions of law, or to the ordiary experience of mankind, the burden of proof is devolved on the objector. [pp. 33 - 4.]

9] Internal coherence and external corroboration: Every event which actually transpires has its appropriate relation and place in the vast complication of circumstances, of which the affairs of men consist; it owes its origin to the events which have preceded it, it is intimately connected with all others which occur at the same time and place, and often with those of remote regions, and in its turn gives birth to numberless others which succeed. In all this almost inconceivable contexture, and seeming discord, there is perfect harmony; and while the fact, which really happened, tallies exactly with every other contemporaneous incident, related to it in the remotest degree, it is not possible for the wit of man to invent a story, which, if closely compared with the actual occurrences of the same time and place, may not be shown to be false. [p. 39.]

10] Marks of false vs true testimony: a false witness will not willingly detail any circumstances in which his testimony will be open to contradiction, nor multiply them where there is a danger of his being detected by a comparison of them with other accounts, equally circumstantial . . . Therefore, it is, that variety and minuteness of detail are usually regarded as certain test[s] of sincerity, if the story, in the circumstances related, is of a nature capable of easy refutation, if it were false . . . . [False witnesses] are often copious and even profuse in their statements, as far as these may have been previously fabricated, and in relation to the principal matter; but beyond this, all will be reserved and meagre, from fear of detection . . . in the testimony of the true witness there is a visible and striking naturalness of manner, and an unaffected readiness and copiousness in the detail of circumstances, as well in one part of the narrative as another, and evidently without the least regard to the facility or difficulty of verification or detection . . . the increased number of witnesses to circumstances, and the increased number of circumstances themselves, all tend to increase the probability of detection if the witnesses are false . . . Thus the force of circumstantial evidence is found to depend on the number of particulars involved in the narrative; the difficulty of fabricating them all, if false, and the great facility of detection; the nature of the circumstances to be compared, and from which the dates and other facts to are be collected; the intricacy of the comparison; the number of intermediate steps in the process of deduction; and the circuity of the investigation. The more largely the narrative partake[s] of these characteristics, the further it will be found removed from all suspicion of contrivance or design, and the more profoundly the mind will rest in the conviction of its truth. [pp. 39 - 40.]

11] Procedure: let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances.[p. 42.]

Here, we supplement: J W Montgomery observes of the NT accounts -- and following the McCloskey and Schoenberg framework for detecting perjury -- that the modern approach to assessing quality of such testimony focusses on identifying internal and external defects in the testimony and the witness:

(a) Internal defects in the witness himself refer to any personal characteristics or past history tending to show that the "witness is inherently untrustworthy, unreliable, or undependable."

(b) But perhaps the apostolic witnesses suffered from external defects, that is, "motives to falsify"?

(c) Turning now to the testimony itself, we must ask if the New Testament writings are internally inconsistent or self-contradictory.

(d) Finally, what about external defects in the testimony itself, i.e., inconsistencies between the New Testament accounts and what we know to be the case from archaeology or extra-biblical historical records?

--> In each case, the answer is in favour of the quality of the NT, as can be observed here.

12] The degree of coherence expected of true witnesses: substantial truth, under circumstantial variety. There is enough of discrepancy to show that there could have been no previous concert among them, and at the same time such substantial agreement as to show that they all were independent narrators of the same great transaction, as the events actually occurred. [p.34. All cites from The Testimony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1995). The First Easter's timeline gives a good case in point. You may find it profitable to also examine Edwin Yamauchi's review and W L Craig's remarks on the resurrection vs the current version of the hallucination hypothesis. Craig's critical assessment of the Jesus Seminar is also well worth the time to read it.]

G] The Warranted Credible Truths (WCTs) approach to building/choosing a worldview

During some recent blog exchanges, it has become evident that we can build on the reasonable Faith principles and rules of evidence, developing what we may call the Warranted Credible Truths approach to worldviews analysis, comparison and choice. 

In step- by- step points:

1 –> The radical skeptical assumption involved in dismissing all worldviews (or, especially theistic ones) as assumed false boils down to a bastardised version of Descartes’: If I can doubt, I will set to one side.

2 –> But at least, Descartes was looking for an anchor point of credible certainty to build his worldview on, having seen that his previous throught had been riddled with undetected errors.

3 –> In one sense he found a point of credible certainty, as he was certain — morally so, I may add — that he is as he is plainly "there," thinking the thoughts of doubt. (In another sense, he did not, as the attempt to reduce all reason to demonstrative certainty ends up in an infinite and absurd regress of skeptical challenges. Radical skepticism refutes itself, and evidentialism-rooted selective hyper-skepticism -- as we saw --  is just as bad.)

4 –> So, we are back at the key insight behind the reasonable faith approach: if we ask why one accepts A, one has to put up B, thence C, D, . . . That is, we must in the end stop at a faith-point Fx, where we hold some cluster of beliefs to be properly basic. [Fx means that there are many possible such systems: F0, F1, F2 . . . ]

5 –> Next, we raise a working hypothesis: we may be far more certain of the warranted credibility as true of certain specific beliefs than we may be about global systems of thought.

6 –> This, we can immediately warrant as so. For instance, let us revisit a favourite example on this; from Josiah Royce via Elton Trueblood: Error exists . . . Warranted, Credible Truth [WCT] no 1.

7 –> To attempt to deny WCT 1 immediately ends up in giving an example of its truth, i.e it is undeniably true and self-evident. (So also, it follows immediately that: WCT1a: truth exists, and WCT1b: knowable truth exists.)

8 –> This last concept of self-evidence, is key: truths that are seen by the unprejudiced mind as so and as necessarily so, once we understand them. In the history of ideas, we ultimately owe the concept to . . . the much maligned and despised — and “misunderestimated” — Apostle Paul, in Rom 1:

Rom 1:19 . . . what may be known about God is plain to [rebellious man, i.e. men who suppress the truth and duty they know or should know], because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being UNDERSTOOD from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

9 –> Now, we exist as going concerns, credibly inhabiting a real world: minded, enconscienced creatures living in a cosmos that gives every evidence of high art and elegant design as well as moral government. [For this last, just think of how when we quarrel we habitually and instinctively appeal to a fundamental equality and mutually binding principle of fairness and respect. Seldom, if ever do we hear one who quarrels thusly: "Whuh yuh talkin' 'bout? Me is lion and yuh is lunch. So, stop dis bleating and slide down de throat nice an' smooth. Weakling." (And, were we to hear such, we would be utterly incensed with such a callous rogue and would as a rule demand extra punishment for the cold-blooded, remorseless aggravation.)]

10 –> Now too, how can we best understand and explain that as to its roots? 

[Here we are thinking not of the logic of proof but that of abductive inference to best explanation among live options. This is most often discussed in a scientific context, but it is in fact the proper toolbox for historical/forensic inference, for most real world decision-making, and of worldviews analysis on comparative difficulties. (One of the tragedies of our education system in the Caribbean is that as a rule, we are not explicitly equipped to understand the subtleties in Peirce's three great movements of logic: abduction, deduction [and testing by comparison with the empirical world], then induction to provisional general principle of analysis or action.)]

11 –> We will soon see that self-evident truth is a pivotal concept, though one that is often derided today: self-evident truth as the context of the first principles of right reason and reasonable faith-point based worldviews.

12 –> What does that mean? Excerpting our favourite "whipping boy" popular, secularist, evolutionary materialist reference as just linked — for, citing a hostile witness is especially telling in practical argument:

In epistemology (theory of knowledge), a self-evident proposition is one that is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof.

Some epistemologists deny that any proposition can be self-evident. For most others, the belief that oneself is conscious is offered as an example of self-evidence. However, one’s belief that someone else is conscious is not epistemically self-evident . . . .

A self-evident proposition cannot be denied without knowing that one contradicts oneself (provided one actually understands the proposition). An analytic proposition cannot be denied without a contradiction, but one may fail to know that there is a contradiction because it may be a contradiction that can be found only by a long and abstruse line of logical or mathematical reasoning. Most analytic propositions are very far from self-evident. Similarly, a self-evident proposition need not be analytic: my knowledge that I am conscious is self-evident but not analytic . . . .

For those who admit the existence [i.e. reality] of abstract concepts, the class of non-analytic self-evident truths can be regarded as truths of the understanding–truths revealing connections between the meanings of ideas.

13 –> The key phrase there is “truths of the understanding.”

14 –> For, starting from the certainty of our existence as minded, enconscienced creatures in a physically and morally coherent, intelligible world — one can deny such only on pain of reduction to utter self-referential incoherence and absurdity! — we are led to see that certain ideas evidently refer to clustered realities that we can understand in light of our experience of the world, and once we understand them clearly, they are seen to be true and deniable only on pain of indulging in incoherence of an order that we know or should know.

15 –> For instance, echoing Adler [a rich discussion!], we see that the finite whole is greater than any of its proper parts. We cannot understand parts or wholes in isolation, i.e the concepts are clustered. And, as we spiral in on understanding through our ever deepening experience of and reflection on the world, we come to see that it is true and deniable only on pain of incoherence, that the finite whole is greater than any of its proper parts.

16 –> Given the bad habit of refusing to follow links, let us excerpt. Pardon the somewhat technical discussion:

The little error in the beginning, made by Locke and Leibniz, perpetuated by Kant, and leading to the repudiation of any non-verbal or non-tautological truth having incorrigible certitude, consists in starting with a dichotomy instead of a trichotomy — a twofold instead of a threefold distinction of types of truth. In addition to merely verbal statements which, as tautologies, are uninstructive and need no support beyond the rules of language, and in addition to instructive statements which need support and certification, either from experience or by reasoning, there is a third class of statements which are non-tautological or instructive, on the one hand, and are also indemonstrable or self-evidently true, on the other. These are the statements that Euclid called “common notions,” that Aristotle called “axioms” or “first principles,” and that mediaeval thinkers called “propositions per se nota.”

One example will suffice to make this clear — the axiom or selfevident truth that a finite whole is greater than any of its parts. This proposition states our understanding of the relation between a finite whole and its parts. It is not a statement about the word “whole” or the word “part” but rather about our understanding of wholes and parts and their relation. All of the operative terms in the proposition are indefinable. We cannot express our understanding of a whole without reference to our understanding of its parts and our understanding that it is greater than any of its parts. We cannot express our understanding of parts without reference to our understanding of wholes and our understanding that a part is less than the whole of which it is a part.

When our understanding of an object that is indefinable (e.g., a whole) involves our understanding of another object that is indefinable (e.g., a part), and of the relation between them, that understanding is expressed in a self-evident proposition which is not trifling, uninstructive, or analytic, in Locke’s sense or Kant’s, for no definitions are involved. Nor is it a synthetic a priori judgment in Kant’s sense, even though it has incorrigible certitude; and it is certainly not synthetic a posteriori since, being intrinsically indemonstrable, it cannot be supported by statements offering empirical evidence or reasons.

The contemporary denial that there are any indisputable statements which are not merely verbal or tautological, together with the contemporary assertion that all non-tautological statements require extrinsic support or certification and that none has incorrigible certitude, is therefore falsified by the existence of a third type of statement, exemplified by the axiom or self-evident truth that a finite whole is greater than any of its parts, or that a part is less than the finite whole to which it belongs. It could as readily be exemplified by the self-evident truth that the good is the desirable, or that the desirable is the good — a statement that is known to be true entirely from an understanding of its terms, both of which are indefinables. One cannot say what the good is except by reference to desire, or what desire is except by reference to the good. The understanding of either involves the understanding of the other, and the understanding of both, each in relation to the other, is expressed in a proposition per se nota, i.e., self-evident or known to be true as soon as its terms are understood.

Such propositions are neither analytic nor synthetic in the modern sense of that dichotomy; for the predicate is neither contained in the definition of the subject, nor does it lie entirely outside the meaning of the subject. Axioms or self-evident truths are, furthermore, truths about objects understood, objects that can have instantiation in reality, and so they are not merely verbal. They are not a priori because they are based on experience, as all our knowledge and understanding is; yet they are not empirical or a posteriori in the sense that they can be falsified by experience or require empirical investigation for their confirmation. The little error in the beginning, which consists in a non-exhaustive dichotomy mistakenly regarded as exhaustive, is corrected when we substitute for it a trichotomy that distinguishes (i) merely verbal tautologies, (ii) statements of fact that require empirical support and can be empirically falsified, (iii) axiomatic statements, expressing indemonstrable truths of understanding which, while based upon experience, do not require empirical support and cannot be empirically falsified.[6]

17 –> Now,the above (being somewhat technical) will require some careful reflection and reading to fully understand. But enough should be clear on a first reading to see that self-evident truths are real and are important as truths that we see as so so soon as we understand them as minded, enconscienced creatures in the world we live in. And, we can deny such truths only on pain of absurdity.

18 –> So also, we see that there credibly are truths we know or should know that are some useful foundation stones for a reasonable worldview. Among — I do not pretend to exhaust the list — these first premises and starting-points of right reason as morally and intellectually governed creatures are WCTs 1 - 7:

WCT 1: Error exists, so we should recognise that truth exists as what is there that we may be in error about; truth saying of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not. 

--> From this, we may immediately see that we can know that truth exists, so knowledge -- warranted, credible truth -- exists. 

--> Thus also, we may make mistakes about it so we need and OUGHT to be open to well-warranted correction.

WCT 2: The first, intuitive principles of real-world logic: 

[a] A thing is what it is (the law of identity);  

[b] A thing cannot at once be and not-be (the law of non-contradiction); 

[c] A thing cannot neither be nor not-be (the law of the excluded middle). [Cf clarifications and rebuttals to challenges here. And, kindly note, we are specifically speaking with reference to the experienced real world of real things, so extensions to empty-set contexts in which issues over contrasted empty sets -- that is, quite literally: no-thing --  arise, are irrelevant.]

--> In that context — and Aristotle was discussing the nature of truth in Metaphysics 1011b, when he said what follows — [d] the truth is that which says of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not

--> It is worth the while to pause and read Aristotle's own words; though this again is significantly technical. Highlighting will help: 

That the most certain of all beliefs is that opposite statements are not both true at the same time, and what follows for those who maintain that they are true, and why these thinkers maintain this, may be regarded as adequately stated. And since the contradiction of a statement cannot be true at the same time of the same thing, it is obvious that contraries cannot apply at the same time to the same thing . . . .

Nor indeed can there be any intermediate between contrary statements, but of one thing we must either assert or deny one thing, whatever it may be. This will be plain if we first define truth and falsehood. To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false. But neither what is nor what is not is said not to be or to be. Further, an intermediate between contraries will be intermediate either as grey is between black and white, or as "neither man nor horse" is between man and horse. [Metaphysics, 1011b]

WCT 3: We live in a real world that exists, and contains individual things that also have real existence. (Just try to deny that and see where it lands you!)

WCT 4: That which exists has a good and logically sufficient reason/ explanation — notice the worldviews level application of abduction! — as to why: i.e.

(i) if it begins to exist and/or may go out of existence, it has a cause; and

(ii) it is logically possible for one or more necessary beings to exist which are the ultimate causal grounds for such contingent beings [as in (i)]. 

(Also, since it is credible that we live in a contingent observed world and that we are contingent ourselves, both it and us require an adequate causal explanation in a non-contingent, self-existent order of existence. On this, the former Steady State Universe model proposed that a material cosmos was that necessary being, but the want of evidence has led to the collapse of this view. The evidence pointing to the beginning of the cosmos in which we live therefore points also beyond the observed cosmos; to an order of existence that grounds it. And to posit that it comes from nothing — not space, time or matter or energy — by nothing and for nothing, is therefore absurd on its face. [Indeed, that is why multiverse models are now a popular notion.])

WCT 5: As reflecting on the familiar example of a fire will illuminate, causal — as opposed to merely logical — factors may be: 

(i) necessary [without which the result is blocked -- no fuel, no fire; if something has a beginning, it has at least one necessary causal factor, that was not "on" until it began, i.e. anything that has a beginning is caused and is contingent on external factors],

(ii) sufficient [once present the result will always happen or exist, as the classic fire triangle illustrates: air + heat + fuel --> fire], or even 

(iii) necessary and sufficient [e.g. air, fuel and heat are each necessary for and are jointly sufficient to initiate and/or sustain a fire].

(iv) contributory, though not necessary.

WCT 6: Evil exists (NB: this is best understood as the objectionable, harmful and destructive privation and/or perversion of the good), so that governing moral truth, principle and obligation also objectively exist. 

--> Thus also, only a worldview that has a grounding IS that is a proper foundation for OUGHT is a reasonable faith. [This insight is actually one of decisive ones that Paul was alluding to.]

WCT 7: We, our circumstances, challenges and our common world are at least in significant part intelligible (and so discuss-able) in light of reason, experience and credible first principles used with good inferential logic. (Try to deny it and see where this gets you!)

19 –> Worldviews are of course much broader than such a cluster of “first plausible”/ pretty certain WCTs, even with considerable expansion. But, through the WCTs, we have a cluster of criteria above that we can only deny on pain of evident absurdity, and which thus serve as a cluster of rock-hard basic facts and principles of reasoning that cut a considerable swath across the many worldview alternatives that are promoted in today’s post-/ultra-modern world.

20 –> Indeed, it turns out that the reason many popular ideologies and worldviews are prominent in today’s marketplace of ideas and values, is that the WCT’s above are being ignored or suppressed or otherwise dismissed without proper and fair consideration. 

(This, at the horrendous price of irrationally and too often stubbornly adhering to -- and even stoutly defending -- that which on reasonable reflection in light of our common experience and resulting knowledge of the real world, will soon be seen to be plainly and inescapably absurd.)

21 –> For instance, on WCTs 1 and 2, radical relativism [which denies the existence of truth beyond what seems true to you or to me], and radical or selectively hyperskeptical views [which deny the knowability of truth in general, or exert double standards of warrant for truths of experience and fact] are utterly swept away.

22 –> Similarly, on WCT’s 3 – 5, worldview level — or “scientific”  claims that boil down to denying cause-effect bonds, are swept away. In short, something that begins to exist does not come from nothing for no reason. 

23 –> Thus, given the material world that we observe credibly is not eternal or necessary, we need a good explanation of where our credibly complex and fine-tuned cosmos came from. 

24 –> So also, random quantum fluctuations and bubbling up sub-cosmi in a primordial cosmos, etc, will have to compete on comparative difficulties with views that suggest that an intelligible, complexly ordered world finely balanced and set up to support life is the product of intelligence and intent.

25 –> Similarly, only views that properly ground morality are credible

26 –> This sharpest edge of the blade of the problem of the one and the many cuts clean across today's evolutionary materialism and other monist views that simplistically reduce reality's diversity to just one essence or entity. Indeed, it is also a deep challenge for pantheism and panentheism. (Redemptive Trinitarian Monotheism has a complex not a simple unity at the core of reality, successfully integrating unity and diversity in the heart of its worldview. [For a discussion of he related problem of evil, in light of Plantinga's Free Will Defense, cf here.])

27 –> Also — and I am astonished I have to even raise this one — views that imply or assert a primordial reality that is independent of an order of super-human beings/ gods/ daimons/ angels/ demiurges etc and then have to address the grounding of ought in a world in which primordial chaos is an independent reality  run seriously afoul of the classic Euthyphro dilemma: "Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"  As a generic disucssion summarises:

Either the pious being the pious is that which explains why the gods love it, or the gods' love of it is that which explains why the pious is the pious. Socrates and Euthyphro both accept the first option: surely the gods love the pious because it is pious. But this means, Socrates argues, that we are forced to reject the second option: the fact that the gods love it cannot be what explains why the pious is the pious (10d). This is because both options together would yield a vicious circle, with the gods loving the pious because it is the pious, and the pious being the pious because the gods love it. And this in turn means, Socrates argues, that the pious is not the same as the god-beloved, for what makes the pious the pious is not what makes the god-beloved the god-beloved. After all, what makes the god-beloved the god-beloved is the fact that the gods love it, whereas what makes the pious the pious is something else (9d-11a). Thus Euthyphro's theory does not give us the very nature of the pious, but at most a quality of the pious (11ab).

28 –>  This has been extended as an objection to monotheistic views. to do that, the original Platonic objection is usually transformed into: "Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?"  Or, as Russell put it in his Why I am Not a Christian:

If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God . . .

29 --> The classic Judaeo-Christian theistic reponse has long been that God is good as to his essential character, so that there is no separation between goodness and God. That is, the attempt to transfer the dilemma from polytheistic gods to the Creator God, errs by skipping over a crucial and decisive difference between mere mythical and magical heroes writ large and the inherently good, wise Creator, God and Lord of Creation. Further, since what God does, says and decrees will be good, creation is good at its root. 

30 --> As Koukl summarises:

The Christian rejects the first option, that morality is an arbitrary function of God's power. And he rejects the second option, that God is responsible to a higher law. There is no Law over God.

The third option is that an objective standard exists (this avoids the first horn of the dilemma). However, the standard is not external to God, but internal (avoiding the second horn). Morality is grounded in the immutable character of God, who is perfectly good. His commands are not whims, but rooted in His holiness.

Could God simply decree that torturing babies was moral? "No," the Christian answers, "God would never do that." It's not a matter of command. It's a matter of character.

So the Christian answer avoids the dilemma entirely. Morality is not anterior to God--logically prior to Him--as Bertrand Russell suggests, but rooted in His nature. As Scott Rae puts it, "Morality is not grounded ultimately in God's commands, but in His character, which then expresses itself in His commands."[9] In other words, whatever a good God commands will always be good . . . . 

The Christian's job is not done, though, because Bertrand Russell's observation suggests a second problem. Socrates' challenge to Euthyphro has not been met. What is "good"? It doesn't help to say that God is good unless we know what the term refers to . . . . 

According to Christian teaching, God is not good in the same way that a bachelor is an unmarried male. When we say God is good, we are giving additional information, namely that God has a certain quality. God is not the very same thing as goodness (identical to it). It's an essential characteristic of God, so there is no tautology.[12]  . . . . 

A proper understanding of Christian teaching on God removes one problem, yet we still face another: What is "good"? How can we know goodness if we don't define it first?

The way Abraham responded when he first learned of God's intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah gives us a clue to the answer:

Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? (Genesis 18:25)

Here's the question. How did Abraham know justice required that God not treat the wicked and the righteous alike? As of yet, no commandments had been handed down.

Abraham knew goodness not by prior definition or by some decree of God, but through moral intuition. He didn't need God to define justice (divine command). He knew it directly. His moral knowledge was built in.[13]

Even the atheist understands what moral terms mean. He doesn't need God in order to recognize morality. He needs God to make sense of what he recognizes.

This is precisely why the moral argument for God's existence is such a good one. The awareness of morality leads to God much as the awareness of falling apples leads to gravity. Our moral intuitions recognize the effect, but what is the adequate cause? If God does not exist, then moral terms are actually incoherent and our moral intuitions are nonsense.

31 –> So, we see the significance of the moral and intelligible nature of reality as we expereince it (and as Paul pointed out inthe cite from Romans above): they both strongly -- indeed, compellingly -- point to God.

32 –> Cutting to the chase scene, given the further facts of the prophesies in Is 53 etc [700+ BC] and their historical fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth: born of a virgin under the law and prophecies, loving and serving with miraculous healings and other “astonishing feats,” then dying on a cruel cross at the sentence of a kangaroo court [but thus dying for our sins], then rising from the dead with 500+ witnesses and pouring out His Spirit though whom millions have come to intimately, personally meet, know and be transformed by God in the -- NB: Afrocentrist neopagans trying to  slander the God of the Bible as a blony, blue-eyed White Man's pagan copycat god: very Middle Eastern face of Jesus (and this: hawk nose, brown eyes, brown hair, "unvarnished mahogany" complexion and all  just might be nearly right) --  ever since, sets up Judaeo-Christian, Redemptive Trinitarian Monotheism as the worldview to beat.

So, here I and other Bible-believing, Born Again Christians -- i.e. sinners saved by grace and being transformed by that grace's resurrection power as (however stumblingly) we learn how to walk with the Living God --  stand; and the above is a fair part of why.

SKEPTICS: What solidly grounded alternative can you offer, once WCT’s 1 – 7 are in play — or can you overthrow them? . . . the ball is now in your court . . . 

CONCLUSION: The fallacy of selective hyperskepticism occurs when one exerts (perhaps inadvertently) a double-standard on the degree of warrant demanded for accepting matters of fact, matters which as Simon Greenleaf observed, can only be shown to be so beyond reasonable doubt, i.e. to moral rather than demonstrative certainty. (This fallacy, unfortunately, is especially common in addressing matters relating to the underlying evidential basis for the Christian Faith.) However, it can be relatively easily detected, and avoided. When one turns to the underlying root factors, one sees that there is a need to first address the self-referential inconsistencies in radical skepticism and associated evidentialism and narrow foundationalism. Once that is done, one may then proceed to a fairer examination of matters of fact in general and Christian evidences in particular.

It is appropriate to close off these remarks by giving a brief summary of the current state of play on the credibility of the New Testament accounts, by citing some remarks by the distinguished Canadian New Testament Scholar, Craig Evans, in the November 2004 Benthal Public Lecture, in Calgary:

My purpose tonight is to lay before you what I believe are key facets in the scholarly discussion of the historical Jesus. In my view there are five important areas of investigation and in all five there has been significant progress in recent years. I shall frame these areas as questions. They include (1) the question of the ethnic, religious, and social location of Jesus; (2) the question of the aims and mission of Jesus; (3) the question of Jesus’ self-understanding; (4) the question of Jesus’ death; and (5) the question of Jesus’ resurrection. All of these questions directly bear on the relevance of Jesus for Christian faith and some of them have important implications for Jewish- Christian relations . . . .

The story told in the New Testament Gospels—in contrast to the greatly embellished versions found in the Gospel of Peter and other writings— smacks of verisimilitude. The women went to the tomb to mourn privately and to perform duties fully in step with Jewish burial customs. They expected to find the body of Jesus; ideas of resurrection were the last thing on their minds. The careful attention given the temporary tomb is exactly what we should expect. Pious fiction—like that seen in the Gospel of Peter— would emphasize other things. Archaeology can neither prove nor disprove the resurrection, but it can and has shed important light on the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death, burial, and missing corpse . . . .

Research in the historical Jesus has taken several positive steps in recent years. Archaeology, remarkable literary discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, and progress in reassessing the social, economic, and political setting of first-century Palestine have been major factors. Notwithstanding the eccentricities and skepticism of the Jesus Seminar, the persistent trend in recent years is to see the Gospels as essentially reliable, especially when properly understood, and to view the historical Jesus in terms much closer to Christianity’s traditional understanding, i.e., as proclaimer of God’s rule, as understanding himself as the Lord’s anointed, and, indeed, as God’s own son, destined to rule Israel. But this does not mean that the historical Jesus that has begun to emerge in recent years is simply a throwback to the traditional portrait. The picture of Jesus that has emerged is more finely nuanced, more obviously Jewish, and in some ways more unpredictable than ever. The last word on the subject has not been written and probably never will be. Ongoing discovery and further investigation will likely force us to make further revisions as we read and read again the old Gospel stories and try to come to grips with the life of this remarkable Galilean Jew.

Perhaps, then, a fresh -- and unprejudiced -- look at the record, is in order?




The following reproduced blog post was originally a part of a discussion on Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy in light of the Golden Compass film. 

As a part of the onward discussion -- which began with a series of posts here, here, and here -- the underlying issues of the contrast with C S Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia came up, and thence the issue of believing in the reality of a world beyond one's immediate experience and familiarity based on credible testimony. So, this further remark was added, with minor adjustments:


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Matt 24 watch, 43: The Golden Compass 4 -- the Lucy Pevensie school of epistemology

Just this morning on the local relay of the usual morning BBC news -- a familiar 7:00 am or 8:00 am morning ritual all over the English-speaking Caribbean -- there was an item on the 75th anniversary of that venerable global institution.

As I listened to it, my mind went back to the recent issues over BBC's sad loss of credibility and tendency to regrettably biased reporting and commentary. Thence, my mind turned to this blog's recent remarks on the Golden Compass movie [which by the way, opened with unexpectedly low box office numbers], and to The Chronicles of Narnia, which Mr Pullman has so often and so harshly derided.

. . . . I found the suggested explanation for the Golden Compass' low box office numbers in the USA interesting, especially the contrast with numbers in the UK:
Rolf Mittweg of New Line Cinema, which released Compass, concedes that the religion controversy might have had an effect. But he points out, "Historically, that tends to be ineffective — look at The Da Vinci Code. No one was supposed to see that, either."

He notes that the film did better internationally, grossing $55 million in 25 territories, led by the United Kingdom, where it brought in $18 million. Outside the USA, Mittweg says, movies are "not at all affected" by religious controversies. [Translation: Slander, hostility-inducing misinformation, advocacy for questionable early sexual behaviour, and blasphemy against the Church and God have little impact on the public's sensibilities in truly secularised cultures. Shades of Rom 1:19 ff and Eph 4:17 - 19.]

Gregg Kilday, film editor with The Hollywood Reporter, paints a complex picture. Though church opposition can't be discounted, he says, "to claim it's a victim of religious controversy, there's no real evidence of that, at least not at this point."

The film may have suffered from a general tiring of fantasy films, he says. He noted the poor box-office performance of Stardust, which topped out at just $38.3 million this year. "And while the movie has been treated as a potential franchise, a la Lord of the Rings, in some ways, it was never fated to be like that," Kilday says. "The Pullman trilogy isn't as well known, and this is a fantasy built around a young girl" — not exactly a fit with the genre's core young-male audience.

What's more, he says, "in reaching out to younger females, it obviously ran up against Enchanted."

Disney's princess film, in fact, is holding well, according to studio estimates from Nielsen EDI. The film captured No. 2 with $10.7 million after two weeks at No. 1 . . .

Muy interesante.

Especially, let us observe the deft dodging of the point that Pullman has clearly gone across some very serious lines in the culture with his very overt hostility to the Judaeo-Christian tradition and a highly questionable incident in his trilogy, in which Lyra, the approximately 12 year old anti-heroine engages in a highly sexually charged encounter with Will, her companion for much of the trilogy. [Cf Atlantic Monthly's discussion here.]

Onward, my thoughts went to a key incident in the very first book in the Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The incident occurs shortly after Lucy, the youngest of four Pevensie children, had discovered a gateway to the parallel universe of Narnia, while hiding in a wardrobe. (NB: In a later book, The Magician's Nephew, it turns out that the wardrobe was made from the wood of an apple tree planted from a Narnian seed and used to save the life of Professor Kirke's mother. That name Kirke is also, plainly, a hint: "kirk" is the Scotch word for "church.")

On returning to England from Narnia, Lucy announced her discovery to her brothers Edmund and Peter, and her older sister, Susan.

They don't believe her and worry as to whether she has turned liar all of a sudden, or whether she has lost her mind.

Soon enough, the worried older siblings bring the matter to Prof Kirke, and ask for his help. An epistemologically interesting exchange occurs, starting with a sharp retort from the good Professor [which I duly emphasise]:
"How do you know?" he asked, "that your sister's story is not true?"

Oh, but--" began Susan, and then stopped. Anyone could see from the old man's face that he was perfectly serious. Then Susan pulled herself together and said, "But Edmund [NB: who had by then also been to Narnia and had come under the bewitchment of the wicked white witch, Jadis, who had usurped power in Narnia and was running a Nazi-style police state, making it "always winter but never Christmas"] said they had been only pretending."

"That is a point," said the Professor, "which deserves consideration . . . For instance . . . does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?"

"That's just the funny thing about it, Sir," said Peter. "Up till now, I'd have said Lucy every time." . . . .

"Well," said Susan, "in general, I'd say the same as Peter, but this couldn't be true -- all this about the wood and the Faun."

"That is more than I know," said the Professor, "and a charge of lying against someone whom you have found truthful is a very serious thing . . ."
The issue of Lucy's possible madness, naturally enough, then comes up.

The Professor dispatches the suggestion with a hook-shot to the boundary: " Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One only has to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad."

Next . . .
"But then," said Susan and stopped . . . .

"Logic!" said the Professor half to himself. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then, unless further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth."
And so, we come to the central issue of epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge: whose report do we believe, why?

The best answer, in a world of fallible, finite, too often ill-willed people, hinges on credibility, and on being open-minded but critically aware.

On the principles of reasonable faith, in short:
--> We should trust the straightforwardly and plainly, habitually truthful over the devious, manipulative and deceptive.

--> We should examine circumstances and known facts to see if one who hitherto has usually told the truth may be either lying or mistaken or outright deceived.

--> We should not beg the question by ruling out logically possible options that don't fit our current view of the world, or by demanding an impossible standard of evidence for such: extraordinary things require ADEQUATE evidence, not "extraordinary evidence."

--> When in doubt, we should hold our conclusions provisionally, pending further clarification.

--> When such a conclusion holds up and shows itself to be reliable relative to facts and fresh discoveries, is coherent and powerfully explains a lot about the world, we should be prepared to trust its reliability.
By that light, The Chronicles of Narnia wins hands down over The Golden Compass, and the His Dark Materials trilogy.

(So, by the way, if you are looking for a set of books to give to a favourite child for Christmas, Narnia takes my endorsement hands down over The Golden Compass and its ilk, or for that matter the latest Harry Potter tome.)

And, by that light, the Apostle Paul's AD 55 report takes my endorsement hands down over and against the fulminations of Mr Pullman and his atheistical ilk:
1CO 15:1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you . . . .

1CO 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep . . . 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
So, now: whose report will you believe this Advent Season? Why? END


One of Mr Pullman's ill-founded but sometimes persuasive accusations against Narnia is that C S Lewis sends Susan to hell for simply growing up and becoming fashion conscious.

I find Chris Whiteside's rebuttal to such notions here very interesting, and telling on Mr Pullman's want of doing basic research before making sharp accusations:
. . . a careful reading . . . will show that [The Last Battle”] does not predict whether Susan will go to heaven when she dies. There is a far more practical reason why she does not join the other characters in heaven at the end of the book – she isn’t dead yet. At the conclusion of the Narnian series Susan is alive and well in England and, if she has any sense, suing British Rail for vast sums of money as compensation for wiping out her entire family in a rail accident.

This is not just my own interpretation, although I arrived at this view myself from reading “The Last battle”. C.S. Lewis confirmed it himself in a letter to a boy named Martin in 1957 which can be found in the book “Letters to Children.” In his words
“The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end – in her own way.”
Personally I suspect that Susan would have come back from what would appear to her as the wasteful and tragic death of her parents, brothers, sister and cousin by campaigning for better rail safety and justice for the survivors and families of rail crash victims. When Susan rediscovered the strength she had as the Queen who defied and outwitted Prince Rabadash, the Board of British Rail and the Department of Transport wouldn’t have known what hit them !
posted by Gordon @ 7:36 AM



A case-study on atmosphere-poisoning dismissal: On the alleged narrow-mindedness and hatefulness of the gospel's claim to unique truth and a unique path to God

The Christian gospel is pretty direct, even blunt, on the uniqueness of Jesus the crucified, risen Lord and Saviour:

  John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me . . . "

Acts 4:9 If we [the apostles Peter and John, before the Sanhedrin ruling council in Jerusalem, c. AD 30 - 33] are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 He is

   " 'the stone you builders rejected,
      which has become the capstone.[a]'[b]

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

In a pluralistic, radically relativistic postmodern age such as ours, this easily comes across as narrow-minded, closed-minded, intolerant, bigoted and hateful; sharply polarising hearts and minds against the Christian gospel, church and Christians.  

Indeed, in the rhetoric of anti-gospel, anti-Christian indoctrination, this objection is now a common, and often effective -- though highly misleading -- tactic.

At first level, the real issue is not narrow-mindedness, but truth. For, saying "2 + 3 = 5" is not a matter of being "narrow" or "bigoted," but of being accurate

(And before rushing off and dismissing the gospel without further considerations as "obviously" inaccurate to history, one should consult the implications of the AD 55 eyewitness lifetime primary source record here (and the associated life-transforming experience of the millions across 2,000 years who have encountered God in the face of the crucified and risen Christ through the gospel; including many thousands of your neighbours all across the Caribbean), as well as discussions by men like professor Yamauchi here and professor Evans here. The 2006 Craig - Ehrman debate (transcript here) between two men at the top of their game, should give a balanced view. This debate (mp3) between professors Craig and Ludemann is also illuminating. [The DVD of the follow-up debate is here.])

But, too, we must also recognise the force of Aristotle's warning in Bk I, Ch 2 of his The Rhetoric:

persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . .

How, then, can we respond, being faithful to the core truths of the gospel message but also able to effectively and winsomely communicate the core message of God's love and rescue of lost humanity -- a message that is so eloquently portrayed in John 3:14 - 17? 


Jn 3:14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.[a]

 16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[b] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him . . .

Having recently (Dec. 2009) had to address a case in point in the Blog Barbados Underground, I offer the below (a slightly updated version of a blog comment) as a suggestion:


RE [objections raised in the thread]: (a) “Am I the only one that thinks God must have a real cruel and sadistic streak for creating a system that says if you don’t believe the right way, you are going to burn alive in hell for eternity” and (b) “Why should a GOD want me to be forever damned with Lucifer simply because I refused to believe.”


Whenever we start pushing God into the dock, that is a point where our reasoning has gone off the rails!

And, that is what is happening here, for there is a lot more to the story than the sort of unfortunately strawmanised, demonising and deeply polarised remarks just excerpted suggest.

Perhaps we need to read Paul in Rom 1 – 2 a bit more carefully (and this, on all sides):

Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, 1:19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 1:20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened . . . .

2:5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!

2:6 He will reward each one according to his works: 2:7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, 2:8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness . . . .

2:14 For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. 2:15 They show that the work of the law [i.e core morality, expressed in the principles of neighbour love] is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, 2:16 on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. [NET Bible.]

a –> Paul is pretty explicit that our big problem is resenting and rebelling against the truth we do or should know then substituting what we do or should know is a lie, and that God frowns on this.

b –> So the issue, first, cannot be that one is merely IGNORANT of relevant truth. (Especially, as it is innate. E.g. "You unfair me!" we protest, testifying to the acknowledged binding nature of moral truth; which raises the sobering question that since we are under moral government, we are under a Moral Governor. [For there is no other adequate ground for such moral government.])

c –> Instead, the real issue is that of rebelling against the truth we know and where it points, e.g. the fact of conscious mindedness points to the Source of mind. (And likewise the orderly organised complex information-rich balance of the world and of life in it point to the author thereof.)

d –> Likewise, our consciences crying out for justice — including when we would put God in the Dock and cry out against real or apparent evils — testify to the fact that we find ourselves morally obligated. This can only be grounded in a cosmos in which the ultimate reality is a Morally Just Creator so that good is reasonable and morally compelling as reasonable and fair, not arbitrary. Otherwise the is-ought gap swallows up the ought in the is. (Cf. here on the Euthryphro false dilemma.)

e –> But things get hotter. For in Rom Ch 2 Paul addresses the man who genuinely does not know enough to know Jesus and the gospel (and/or, by extension who sincerely misunderstands it), contrasting him to the one who rejects truth he knows or should know and lives by evil in darkness:

Rom 2:6 He [God] will reward each one according to his works: 2:7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, 2:8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness

f –> Here, we first see the ordinary man who by light of conscience — and inevitably stumblingly so — penitently perseveres in the path of good and truth, based on what he knows of good and God, by dint of nature, prophets, wise teachers, philosophers, scripture or even the manifest presence and power of the gospel. (The attitude is instantly recognisable, and so is its opposite.)

g –> The scripture we are discussing is explicit and plain that to such God gives eternal life: 

Rom 2:6 He [God] will reward each one according to his works: 2:7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality . . .

h –> Very simple, but so very easy to lose sight of: God is fair and loving, so he will save anyone he can. So, it is unsurprising that the Biblical teaching is that if you walk in the truth, the light and the right you know or should — important caveat! — know, penitently and persistently getting up when you err or stumble, God [our loving Father] will receive you with open arms. 

(And, BTW, one of God's yardsticks of judgement is the standard we use when we judge other people; especially if we then turn around and fail to live up to such expectations. [Hence the vital importance of penitence and persistence in the way of the right when we find ourselves -- inevitably -- stumbling like that!])

i –> Such salvation is based on his lovingly and freely offered self-sacrifice by which he took the fatal venom of our self-destroying sin into his own self and expiated its consequences and penalty; so that we may have "life for a look." (NB: The exchange is explicit in many cases, implicit in others [e.g Abraham, Melchizedek, Job, Moshe, David . . . many others down to today who may not have a clear access to a higher -- much less, the highest -- degree of truth or light ], but it is the basis for salvation and eternal life.)

j –> But, not all turn to the good and walk in the path of the right and the truth, however stumblingly.

k --> Some — sadly — rebel even against the undeniable voice of mind and conscience.

l --> Others are willing to follow any rhetoric that excuses them in sin and in untruth; some even going so far as to actively suppress the truth they know or should know -- up to and including the case of those who have heard the gospel and have effective access to the compelling evidence of its truth. 

[NB: This includes the knowledge of the fact that  millions all around us and over the years report that they have met and come to know the real God in the face of Jesus and have had their lives transformed by the resulting release of resurrection power through the "great and precious promises" of the scriptures. (Advice: a little humble listening to people who -- however ill-educated and lacking in eloquence -- actually know God, would save many of us the highly educated a lot of grief here and in eternity.)]

m –> For good reason, then, rebels against the truth and the right they know or should know face a very different fate.

n –> And, it is such who need to heed the stern warnings Paul also gives: 

Rom 2:8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness . . .


So, commentators and onlookers:

1: what is the truth and the right that you know or should know?

2: Are you seeking to turn to it and live by it, however much you stumble and must regret it and get up and try again?

3: Or, are you resisting the truth and following evil, in rage against what you know you should do?

That is the issue we must all face.


I trust that this will prove helpful in seeing the importance of living by the light of truth and right that one knows or should know (because one has reasonable access to it), and why it is the rejection and rebellion against the truth and right one knows or should know that is the real issue, not the alleged narrow-mindedness of truth.

For, 2 + 3 = 5 is not a matter of narrow-mindedness or bigotry, but of accuracy. END



A media spin case study on NT scholarship: BBC Dan Brown-ises a news item on the digitalisation of Codex Sinaiticus

The below is an excerpted and slightly adjusted blog post on a media case study of selective hyperskepticism and resulting media spin from BBC (a former gold standard of news reporting that is often uncritically received in the Caribbean); including the use of an expert on one side of the issue in a way that communicated an unfortunately misleading overall impression:


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Matt 24 watch, 86: BBC Dan Brown-ises a news item on the digitalisation of Codex Sinaiticus

On October 6, 2008, under the banner BBC News, Roger Bolton published an article on the recent digitalisation of the well-known Codex Sinaiticus; which was discovered in 1844 by Tischendorf in a pile of old manuscripts in St Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai -- intended to be fuel for heating cold rooms!

A minor item, hardly worth noticing, you would say.

Until you read the sensationalistic headline: "The rival to the Bible."

For, a la Dan Brown et al [cf also here], the article -- duly presented as "news" -- asserts:

For those who believe the Bible is the inerrant, unaltered word of God, there will be some very uncomfortable questions to answer. It shows there have been thousands of alterations to today's bible.

The Codex, probably the oldest Bible we have, also has books which are missing from the Authorised Version that most Christians are familiar with today - and it does not have crucial verses relating to the Resurrection . . . . the Codex contains two extra books in the New Testament.

One is the little-known Shepherd of Hermas, written in Rome in the 2nd Century - the other, the Epistle of Barnabas. This goes out of its way to claim that it was the Jews, not the Romans, who killed Jesus, and is full of anti-Semitic kindling ready to be lit. "His blood be upon us," Barnabas has the Jews cry . . . . Had this remained in subsequent versions, "the suffering of Jews in the subsequent centuries would, if possible, have been even worse", says the distinguished New Testament scholar Professor Bart Ehrman.

And although many of the other alterations and differences are minor, these may take some explaining for those who believe every word comes from God . . . .

The Bible we now use can't be the inerrant word of God, he says, since what we have are the sometimes mistaken words copied by fallible scribes.

"When people ask me if the Bible is the word of God I answer 'which Bible?'". . .

Unsurprisingly, Islamic advocates swiftly pounced on such a convenient item, e.g. one forum has a contributor boldly declaring (based on Q 9:29 - 35 etc):

This only enhances what Muslims around the world have been arguing for centuries. I would hope, in a perfect world, that our christian friends will open there minds to the truth and reject the falsehood that has hijacked the teachings of Jesus(Peace be upon him). Sadly many will just ignore these facts that continue to open, crushing falsehood but muslims will not cease to argue and spread the truth of islam regardless. The Proof is there, The bible has many alterations/versions and the true teachings of Jesus(Peace be upon him) are lost and can only be found in islam.

A little "deconstruction" is plainly in order, as the item is highly revealing on not only current trends in radical Bible criticism (and on how Islamic advocates often pounce on such works to advance their own agenda), but also on what is happening to the former gold standard of world news, the BBC:

1--> That the only Bible scholar of consequence consulted and cited in details is a well-known radical skeptic, agnostic and former Evangelical should immediately warn us that this news item is anything but:
OBJECTIVE ("STRAIGHT") NEWS: a well-informed, easily readable report on a noticeable and significant current event; presented in an accurate, fair, balanced, factually based fashion; and, with enough background context to give the viewer a basis to make up his or her own mind. (Cf. discussion and rating scheme here.)
2 --> For instance, the article starts by setting up a strawman distortion of the informed conservative position on inerrancy: "those who believe the Bible is the inerrant, unaltered word of God." But, this is sharply divergent from the actual long since publicly declared position taken by, say, Article X of the Chicago statement on inerrancy:
WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

WE DENY that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.
3 --> Now, from the very first Greek New Testament copies a seminary student will use in Greek 101, theologians are all familiar with the textual critical apparatus resting on the study of 5,000 manuscripts. So, the actual Chicago statement makes a clear distinction between the original letters and books, and the state of particular copies that have been handed down or have survived across the ages, as well as translations and paraphrases etc deriving therefrom. Those carefully balanced remarks are unfortunately not reflected in the caricature set up by the article (and evidently by its source, Mr Ehrman).

4 -->
Reflecting 2 Peter 1:20 - 21 -- "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" -- the Chicago statement therefore:
(a) affirms God's inspiration of the Apostles and closely associated apostolic men [such as Mark, or Luke] involved in writing the documents in the New Testament (which would thus reflect God's perfection of knowledge, goodness and character),

(b) noting also that such inspiration clearly primarily relates to the autographs. And,

to address the actual copies we can access -- manuscripts, translations and versions -- the statement then adds that God has made adequate provision that the Bibles (providing they are responsible translations or original language versions) we have in hand adequately reflect the actual original text; sufficiently so that we can use such versions and copies with high confidence. [Cf. The Word and e-SWORD download sites for electronic copies of translations and original language resources with collections of classic supportive technical literature.]

(d) So, the statement concludes that this overall result holds, even though of course any one copy or manuscript -- including Codex Sinaiticus --may have in it various textual critical problems (by far and away, mostly mis-spellings, duplicated or omitted words and the like).

[NB: For more detailed background, cf Enc. of NT Textual Criticism here, Theopedia on the general issues of Bible criticism here, the personal perspective by a recently educated Singaporean Evangelical theologian here, the survey and summary here, and Arlandson's remarks here. Also, for useful survey discussions on the technical, theological and philosophical issues raised by Mr Ehrman, cf the blog exchange with N T Wright here, and the Mark D Roberts essay series on inspiration of the text and textual criticism here. Ben Witherington -- who also studied under Bruce Metzger -- has a very useful short and sharp summary here.]

5 --> When we turn to the Old Testament, we may at once gain perspective and balance by following John Wenham's example: pointing to the example of Jesus (whose position as Prophet and Son of God was confirmed to us by his resurrection from the dead with 500+ eyewitnesses [cf Habermas and Licona's The Case for the Resurrection]).

6 --> For, we may easily see that -- simply taking the NT texts (especially the gospels) as "reasonable" classical era historical sources [i.e. we are not here appealing circularly to the text as the Word of God, but as primary material from C1 . . . ] -- Jesus confidently used the manuscripts of his day as the Word of God. Indeed, in Jn 10:35, we see him addressing a theological challenge, and succinctly stating as a premise: " . . .
the Scripture cannot be broken . . ."

7 --> In the C1, the Old Testament, Hebrew Scriptures had been handed down over the generations and centuries since Moses and the Prophets [NB: cf. here, here, here, here, here and here for a "101" on historical and archaeological credibility despite many other current media, Internet and academic critic attacks], and had similar variants as are currently noted for the NT; with a significant variation in the case of the texts handed down and in use by the Samaritans, a half-Jewish, somewhat schismatic group living in Samaria.

8 --> Cutting to the chase: notwithstanding such minor concerns, Jesus was supremely confident in the Bible of his day as the Word of God, and confirmed its authenticity by fulfilling its prophecies, including those of Isaiah 53 (which foresaw a Messiah who would bear our sins, carry our sorrows, provide healing for us though his stripes, make his soul an offering for our sins, and then prolong his days and see the light of life; having plainly risen from the dead).

9 --> This attitude apparently includes the Septuagint [the "King James Version" translation of that day], as the Apostles he sent out
freely made use of this famous -- and famously loose! -- Greek translation as the Word of God. (E.g., something like 2/3rds of the 300 OT cites in the NT are based on the Septuagint.)

10 --> Indeed, the general apostolic attitude to the 'in-hand" Bible of the C1 can be summed up in Paul's counsel to Timothy in 2 Tim 3:14 - 17:
2 Tim 3: 14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work
11 --> When it comes to the emerging documents that would form our New Testament, we hear Peter saying, in counsel and warning to his readers shortly before his martyrdom c. 65 AD:
2 Peter 1: 16We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."[a] 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit . . . .

3: 13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
12 --> Let us note how Peter speaks of the OT: "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Similarly, he describes the Gospel tradition recorded in our four canonical Gospels: "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." And, in describing Paul's epistles, he observes and warns that: "[they] contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."

13 --> This attitude, plainly, sharply contrasts with that of Dr Ehrman and others of his ilk. Now, further to this, and as James Arlandson summarises in his critical review of Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman argues as follows:
(1) If God inspires his original words in the New Testament, then he should miraculously preserve those original words.
(2) If God miraculously preserves his original words, then we should have them now.
(3) But we do not have those original words now (for they were changed by scribes, not miraculously preserved).
(4) Therefore, God did not inspire any original words in the New Testament.


(i) As the Chicago statement highlights, this sets up a convenient strawman: what is practically required is that the substantial matter be accurately communicated, not the miraculous preservation of all copies from copyist errors etc (not to mention willful distortions by the likes of a Marcion etc) in all cases across 2,000 years.

(ii) As a matter of the fact of having carefully investigated 5,000 Greek manuscripts and others amounting to 24,000 altogether, we have high confidence that the substantial text has been preserved. (As the Chicago statement notes.)

(iii) In particular, there has been no manipulation of central doctrinal claims or early creedal statements cited in the NT books, such as Acts 17:16 - 34, Rom 1:1 - 5, 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 , Heb 1:1 - 14, or Phil 2:5 - 11 etc.

(iv) In addition, we have well founded confidence that -- as the Christian faith spread in a more or less unorganised way across three continents -- it is plain that no central authority was able to recall and willfully modify all texts. (NB: Such recall and modification seems to have been attempted with the Quran, which was standardised on Hafsa's copy; through Caliph Uthman's orders. Even so, divergent manuscripts were preserved down to the current times; and the historical record preserves the protest against the attempt.)

(v) Thus, there is no pattern of overall willful alteration and distortion of the text of the key NT canonical documents and/or of the core faith commitments they teach. (As for the OT, the current Protestant OT is a somewhat differently arranged version of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tanach.) We can thus identify a central, common-core C1 rooted Christian Faith "once for all delivered to the saints" as Jude 3 describes; rather than Mr Ehrman's claimed competing cluster of irreconcilably conflicting "Christianities."

(vi) In the case of 1 Cor 15:1 - 11, that core gospel teaching traces to the mid 30's AD, and to the circle of 500+ core witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, especially the 20+ member identified inner circle of the Apostles and close associates:
1 Cor 15:1Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
(vii) So, Mr Ehrman's attempts to knock over the strawman he set up notwithstanding, once we see the implications of the resurrection of Jesus, in light of the prophecies that pointed to such a suffering, dying and rising messiah, we have every good reason for confidence that the NT preserves the counsels of God to us.
14 --> By further contrast to the teachings of such modernist skeptics, it is helpful to note that Paul Barnett reports in his Is the New Testament History? on how the very first circle of church fathers whose writings [AD 95 - 115] survive -- Clement of Rome, Ignatius and Polycarp -- cite or allude to 25 of 27 of our canonical NT writings as scripture. (They happened not to mention two of the shortest, Jude and 2 John).

15 --> That is, right from the time of those who were the disciples and immediate successors of the Apostles, the main body of NT documents were already accepted by the living church as God-inspired, authoritative and authentic scripture. And since then, these works have continued to be read, accepted as scripture and cited as the Word of God from generation to generation, right up to the invention of printing (which allowed each of us to hold a copy of these precious documents in our own hands).

16 --> In addition, the immediate successors to the apostles, speaking in their own voice, taught as follows:
(i) Clement, 95: Let us fear the Lord Jesus (Christ), whose blood was given for us. The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent from God. He made the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruit, when He raised Him from the dead.

(ii) Ignatius, 110 – 115: Be ye deaf therefore, when any man speaketh to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was born of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him . . .

(iii) Polycarp, 110+: . . Jesus Christ who took our sins in His own body upon the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, but for our sakes He endured all things, that we might live in Him . . . . For they loved not the present world, but Him that died for our sakes and was raised by God for us . . . . who shall believe on our Lord and God Jesus Christ and on His Father that raised Him from the dead.
17 --> We may thus easily see from these excerpts just how Scripture-saturated their thoughts and teachings were.

18 --> Now, Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas, are similarly Scripture-saturated familiar works of Christian antiquity. But, while they were viewed by some Christians as worthy of inclusion with -- or at least being appended to -- the corpus of recognised Scriptures (alongside, e.g. Didache), it was in the end concluded that they were not provably apostolic (and sometimes had questionable materials that were arguably inconsistent with the tone and/or teachings of the known apostolic works), and so on the "if in doubt leave it out" principle were not accepted as a part of the foundational canon.

19 --> It is easy, of course, to play the antisemitic card in order to poison the atmosphere for discussion; e.g by citing how Barnabas, echoes the rent- a- crowd in Matt 27:25: All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" But in fact it should be noted that the NT writers were -- apart from Luke -- Jews. However, on a fairer reading, the recorded NT debates were over the attitude and conduct of the Judaean leadership and their supporters [quite parallel to the many strong denunciations of earlier generations of leadership of Israel in the OT!], not over hostility to Jewishness as such. (NB: Jesus' base of strongest support was in Galilee, dozens of miles to the north. This probably best explains the contrast between the welcoming crowd of pilgrims to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the destructive crowd on Good Friday morning.)

20 --> Indeed, Paul is shockingly vehement on the issue of respect, love for and support of Jews in general:
Rom 9:2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4the people of Israel . . . .

11: 17If some of the branches [of God's Olive Tree of blessing] have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." 20Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
21 --> Somehow, those who are ever so eager to brand the foundational Christian Faith with the scarlet letter of antisemitism never seem to cite these passages, which just happen to also be pretty explicit on the dangers of apostasy! (Yes, Christians over the ages -- Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant -- have said and done horrible things to Jews, but in light of the just above, the NT can hardly be fairly blamed for such sinful misbehaviour that it goes to great lengths to warn against.)


In short, Mr Bolton has inappropriately sensationalised the significance of the Codex Sinaiticus, and in so doing has failed to consult and give us the counsel of informed experts on both sides of the questions.

Had he done so, a very different picture would have emerged.

That is bad enough, but it is compounded by the emerging pattern that reveals the flawed editorial policy of the BBC in our day: such gross errors and bias SHOULD have been caught at the first step of editorial cross-checking. (After all, Bishop N T Wright of Durham, England, is probably the leading conservative theologian today!)

[ . . . . ]

Let us hope that BBC will wake up and do better in future reports. END