Monday, February 14, 2011

Bultmann's blatant chronological snobbery

A redated post, prompted by Bob Prokop's charge of chronological snobbery against Doctor Logic. I am linking to the Wikipedia entry on the fallacy of Chronological snobbery.

It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless [radio] and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of demons and spirits.

Rudolf Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth

Apparently Bultmann never visited a charismatic church. Those churches are not only filled with people who believe in demons and spirits, they consider them part of daily experience.

It reminds me of Al Plantinga's joke:

Pastor 1: Do you believe in infant baptism?
Pastor 2: Believe in it? I've seen it done.

This (1/22/10) is Lewis's critique of chronological snobbery, from Surprised by Joy.

Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my ow thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date has is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also a "period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.


37 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Here's a dilemna for the modern charismatic/pentecostal church:

Either their experiences of miracles, speaking in tongues and exorcisms are the same as what the NT believers and disciples experienced, or they are not.

If yes, then why is it those experiences do not convince anyone but those who already believe; that is, why is it these miracles have little or no convincing power? Did the believers in Jesus and Paul's day believe for less than adequate reasons due to the superstitious age they lived in?

If the charismatic church claims to have the same experiences and I can test this claim and find it lacking in sufficient evidence, then I would have justification for my so-called chronological snobbery.

If not, then what are the differences and how do they know the things they experience are indeed different?

Victor Reppert said...

Bultmann's claim was that modern persons cannot believe in spirits and miracles. That claim is refuted by the mere existence of charismatic Christians.

I once knew a licensed psychologist who practiced healing and exorcism.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, It's true, people believe weird things in every age of mankind. So what? You think you can dismiss everything every "destructive divine" ever wrote because Bultman made a fallacious comment and expected the belief in miracles and exorcisms to continue to decline where ever the scientific method conintued to advance?

Frankly, it DOES appear that the former fervid belief and/or reliance on miracles and exorcisms may indeed have declined over time with advances in scientific knowledge, and people today commonly place a lot of faith in modern medical treatments and health supplements and exercise regimes and psychologists and psychotropic drugs to try and sustain their health and mental well being rather than pinning their hopes quite as heavily on supernatural healers and exorcists.

Perhaps what Bultmann was suggesting was that the majority of people living in his century and part of the civilized world, his readers, were no longer as superstitious as the majority that lived during the days when the New Testament was written, and that advances in the use of the scientific method left many people of his generation increasingly more interested in such things as evolution rather than Adam and Eve; or, more interested in Koch killing Cholera rather than David killing Goliath; or Montgolfier's and the Wright brother's ascents into heaven, rather than Enoch, Elijah's and Jesus's ascent into heaven?

Here's another sort of question of the sort Bultmann raised, and a type of question probably not even considered until centuries after the rise of Christianity:

"If God had wanted to write a book to impress us, why didn’t he tell us about some of the coming possibilities of science or tell us how to develop them? The great inventions and scientific discoveries are utterly ignored by the Bible. There are also many more wonderful things yet to be discovered, but nobody would think about studying the Bible to get an idea as to what these are to be."
[Charles C. Moore, The Rational View]

John W. Loftus said...

Bultmann exaggerated things, I know. In my previous post I was pointing out a problem for those who still believe such things happen today, and offering to test NT claims by testing the claims of Christians today, if these experiences are qualitatively the same.

Are you a snob like me when it comes to blood letting, witch and heresy trials, rain dances, witch doctors, divination through dreams, and the practice of magic?

And how is your prayer life today when compared to ancient times?:
href="http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/01/prayer-healing-and-god-of-gaps.html">Prayer, Healing and the God of the Gaps

Aren't modern people all chronological snobs to some degree?

John W. Loftus said...

The link in my previous post, hopefully, is.... Here.

Victor Reppert said...

Nothing prevents someone from concluding that a displaced belief is false. Believing that a displaced belief is false is not chronological snobbery, so long the belief that it is false is based on the fact that there are good reasons for rejecting it, and not simply because the belief was displaced.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I've already admitted Bultmann's exaggeration. Are you claiming that he's a chronological snob merely because he articulates his conclusions without arguing for them?

Exaggerations make a point that unexaggerated statements don't. It's entirely legitimate as a social literary and religious critic to do so to get people's attention.

Surely you will disagree with him, but are you saying he didn't have his reasons? His purpose wasn't to argue for his conclusions but to state them in an exaggerated fashion and then come up with a theological view that is consistent with his conclusions.

Victor Reppert said...

It seems that he is using the mere fact of displacement as ground for rejection, and that is a version of the bandwagon fallacy. And a lot of people use this kind of argument, "Nobody believes that anymore," "that's sooo 19th Century," or as Lewis said to Barfield, "Why damn, it's Medieval."

Randy said...

Really? Seems to me he is saying that anyone who understands the principles of electricity, the electromagnetic spectrum and biology would not believe in demons and spirits in the same way that people in the New Testament did. I see no fallacy or snobbery here. One could, still believe in a demon or a spirit, but I doubt they would be like the demons/spirits they imagined back in the first century C.E.
You argue for critics to read Lewis with a generous spirit, yet you are so miserly with thinkers you disagree with

unkle e said...

John Loftus said: "Here's a dilemna for the modern charismatic/pentecostal church:

Either their experiences of miracles, speaking in tongues and exorcisms are the same as what the NT believers and disciples experienced, or they are not.

If yes, then why is it those experiences do not convince anyone but those who already believe; that is, why is it these miracles have little or no convincing power?"


John, this may be true of your experience, but is certainly not true of mine. I am not a charismatic/Pentecostal, but I attended a Pentecostal church for six years. I went initially because a good friend of mine, a lapsed Catholic and a very intelligent and worldy person (basing his life, on his own admission, on "sex and drugs and rock n roll") was invited by a friend to attend a vibrant and contemporary Pentecostal church. He was so impressed with the miracles and the apparent work of the Holy Spirit that he came to me as the only "regular christian" he knew to ask me questions. His first two questions were: "Do you believe in speaking in tongues?" and "Do you believe in divine healing?"

He was very impressed and ultimately convinced by the things you have just suggested no-one is convinced by, as were many hundreds of other people in their 20s, and the church grew from nothing to a thousand in less than a decade (and is still large today, several decades later).

This is peripheral to the main discussion here, but I thought you should know. Best wishes.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think the science studies folks call it 'presentism.'

I would agree with DL that many modern Christians believe in silly anachronistic things. For instance, demonic possession theories of human behavior, young earth creationists, and Christian Scientists.

Just because people still believe weird anachronistic things doesn't make them any more credible, or less anachronistic.

Even though Christianity's sphere of explanatory authority and credibility has shrunken to almost nothing in the modern world, there are a few pockets that sustain them. I look at them like divers stuck in a cave system underwater, gulping breaths in the last pockets of air, with fervent faith that these last pockets won't fill up with water like all the others.

These pockets include the sphere of morality (the biggest one probably), consciousness, and some more abstract things among the more educated (e.g., abstract objects to explain logical truth).

All of these pockets of antinaturalism include as a subset those who believe that God is needed to explain the phenomena in question.

Doctor Logic said...

From the Lewis quote in the Wikipedia article:

the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do?

Why didn't the ancients use statistics and double-blind scientific testing?

Because they didn't know about such things. They didn't know about cognitive bias, or else they didn't care.

Today, we know about bias. We know about the unreliability of eyewitness accounts. We're sufficiently savvy to be able to distinguish the product of academic competition from a political hit piece or a manifesto. We know the difference between independent reporting and the dubious claims of purported independence. The Bible is effectively a SINGLE source. It doesn't represent multiple independent sources. The Gospels weren't written by people who had never met and who never shared (or inspired!) each other's stories.

And, indeed, a disdain for overcoming bias pervades most Christian thinking to this day. God and morality are placed in a realm that is said to be beyond scientific access. If we think that we should just wallow in our own biases, then, sure, the ancients were even better at that than we are today (and we're pretty good!). However, people who care about truth DO care about bias, and want bias-free facts wherever possible.

The idea that supernatural forces are beyond scientific study or that we ought not apply scientific standards to paranormal claims is just a sad excuse for sticking to your guns, no matter what the evidence.

So, let's get back to my original point. Who wrote the OT (or the NT) and why did they write what they wrote? What tests of their claims existed? The Bible is not a science textbook derived from refereed papers that have resisted scrutiny and critical assessment. They are deeply-biased, non-independent myths and stories written by political factions with a cultural axe to grind. They are bullsh*t. Poetic bullsh*t, but bullsh*t nonetheless.

It is totally idiotic for people to believe that what was written in those accounts is any more true than the Arthur legend. You would have to completely disable your critical thinking faculties to believe it true. This is the problem with YEC. It's an irrational commitment to a biased document motivated by cultural affiliation and superstition (biased sampling, e.g., belief in prayers being answered). YECers deserve ridicule by critical thinkers everywhere.

Jeremy said...

DL: To me, the whole YEC phenomena is a proof of chronological snobbery. It's Enlightenment/Modern thinking applied to the stories of a culture more concerned with ideas than historical accuracy. YEC showed up late and seems to be a product of Western thought imposing itself on the text because 'we know best.'

Blue Devil Knight said...

DL said:
It is totally idiotic for people to believe that what was written in those accounts is any more true than the Arthur legend.

That's' a bit excessive. Some of the Bible is factually accurate. Some isn't. Some is fiction, some isn't. That's why producing high-quality Biblical exegesis is a full-time job.

When (not if) the Bible contradicts itself, or contradicts well-established science or history, that must be taken into account in any good exegesis.

It is sad that insane exegetes are taken so seriously in our country and tend to dominate what could be interesting discussions that involve a little subtlety. They do a disservice to the Bible when they insist that we treat it as a set of infallible assertions about the world.

What really annoys me is when skeptics like those at Debunking Christianity act as if refuting those nutballs is sufficient to refute Christianity as a whole. That would be like a Christian saying that because they refuted something said by Hutchins, they have proven atheism false. (Note DL I'm not saying this is you...just a pet peeve of mine amongst the online skeptics).

Nick said...

The problem is not disbelieving in something. The problem is disbelieving in something because it is an old belief. I try to treat all beliefs the same way. Show me the evidence. I'm open to miracles and such in other religions.

Bilbo said...

Though I'm not a charismatic, I would like to go on record as believing in the silly, anachronistic idea of demons and spirits.

cl said...

@ Loftus:

If yes, then why is it those experiences do not convince anyone but those who already believe;

1) You simply assume that nobody has converted due to these experiences, yet, you say we're supposed to have positive evidence for that which we accept as true, so, where's your positive evidence? unkle e provided an anecdote that directly challenges your claim. What have you got? 2) Even during the time of the apostles, there were those who refused to believe [cf. Acts 2:13], so the fact that some people aren't persuaded now is no different from the fact that some people weren't persuaded then.

If the charismatic church claims to have the same experiences and I can test this claim and find it lacking in sufficient evidence, then I would have justification for my so-called chronological snobbery.

No you wouldn't. From the OP: "You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood."

SteveK said...

>> The idea that supernatural forces are beyond scientific study or that we ought not apply scientific standards to paranormal claims is just a sad excuse for sticking to your guns, no matter what the evidence.

I think the NAS disagrees with you, DL.

"Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. - NAS website"

Anonymous said...

People (even psychologists) will continue to have experiences of beings that they perceive as demons and spirits, regardless of the advances of science, and for that reason alone, this belief really is not going anywhere.

Poltergeists, hauntings, possession, occult conjuring of disagreeable spirits, etc. - all of these ae rooted in actual human experience (whether we beleive this experience to be imagined/hallucinatory or not).

Anonymous said...

Take a moment to listen to Vince Neal's experience of the ghost of his recently deceased daughter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCXtQ9rC4-U

Anonymous said...

The interesting question is whether there are demons or spirits? What is the evidence for or against. I don't have a priori prejudice on the matter, but I have never experienced one.. Has anyone else had an experience of such beings?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - if you are interested in such things, all you have to do is interview people who are into the occult and have attempted to communicate with such beings. You can even do so in chat rooms if you can get them to talk. Some of them are actually afraid to talk about the incidents bc they can be very frightening just to recall. I have conducted such interviews quite often and it is actually surprising how often such beings are encountered in occult rituals. One commonality I thought was interesting was that people often reported a foul smell that would accompany the spirit/demon.

BenYachov said...

>What really annoys me is when skeptics like those at Debunking Christianity act as if refuting those nutballs is sufficient to refute Christianity as a whole.

Thank you! I take your Atheism seriously BDK.

The Atheism of Hitch, Loftus & Co not so much.

GREV said...

">What really annoys me is when skeptics like those at Debunking Christianity act as if refuting those nutballs is sufficient to refute Christianity as a whole.

Thank you! I take your Atheism seriously BDK.

The Atheism of Hitch, Loftus & Co not so much."

Ben -- I agree and echo your comments. I am not on as much as I would like to be but find myself profiting from reading what BDK writes.

Anthony Fleming said...

I am not as educated as many of you (though I would like to be) but I still think I have something to contribute to this conversation.

I am 26 years old, a Christian, and a minister in a Charismatic church, and now (once again) a student going back to school for a degree in philosophy in hopes of one day getting a doctorate.

First of all, let me say that my belief in the miracles of the Bible are not because they are written in the Bible, but because I have seen them today. Before I get to that, a few things.

The Christian church I now belong to is pictured as a cult among many other more traditional church goers in this small Wisconsin town of 4500 people. However, the senior pastor is respected among the other clergy, it is just members of more traditional churches that have the problem with us.

I grew up as one of those traditional church members, more specifically as a Catholic. In my late teens I felt I would one day become an atheist because I preferred the idea of dying and ending up in the ground rather than spending somewhere "forever and ever." The words "forever and ever" haunted me growing up.

When I was 19 I witnessed many miracles with myself, others, and my family all of which came after someone prayed to God in the name of Jesus. Before this time my mom never spent a month without going to the hospital for something. She had constant allergies, a horrible immune system, and each time she got sick it was worse and worse. For a while she had a copy of her medical file and it had to be several inches thick. We all worried one day that my mom would suffer an early death only in her late forties. She tried everything, doctor after doctor, alternative medicine, you name it. The result was always the same; still sick.

My brother had severe back pain but played tennis with me the day after he was prayed for by a nice old couple.

I was called up in the middle of the service and was told the very things I had been thinking about and contemplating with my life by a man who I had never met. He then prayed for me according to what he "knew" about me and the things he told me would happen in my life did happen.

Anthony Fleming said...

I have many many more such experiences I could share like my salvation but I think I can get my point across with these. Before these things happened I read the Bible once in a while and pretty much stuck to Proverbs, Sirach and Ecclesiastes for the wisdom and common sense. After these things, the miracles of the New Testament actually made sense and so I believed them. These things were done in the name of Jesus, the way he said and promised they would be (John 14:12-14). To me, it seemed reasonable to simply believe it was confirming what Jesus said would be confirmed rather than multiply reasons beyond necessity.

Someone said earlier on here that these things aren't believable to the modern person. I disagree. I think that many of the "modern persons" are the most open to this. When I have gone witnessing in the parks and done college outreaches it is the person exhausted of modernism that is the most open to these things. It doesn't take much to see this. I have done youth outreaches, college outreaches, personal counseling with believers and unbelievers and many of them have a few things in common. They have everything they need, according to the modern mind, but they are empty. Depression among teens has risen again. Suicide among our young generation has risen and risen over the years. They are truly living without the objective meaning that many are preaching.

With advances in technology, medicine, and comfort our life expectancy has almost triples countries who are less fortunate and yet drug and alcohol use continues to rise.

What is modern has not proven to really fulfill the desire and wants of a real existing person. Whether it is because God put it in us, or because evolution selected it for us, people feel their lives mean more than what they are told.

Most of our church believes in miracles not because they feel they should based on some doctrine or belief but because they have seen them. The most kind, sincere, and honest lady I have ever met claimed (to her grave) that she saw a little girls maimed arm grow back out after being prayed for by William Branham.

I know people who were healed of cancerous tumors, diseases, TMJ and many more. Do miracles always happen? No. Do we always pray for one? I guess that depends. I ramblings are meant to make a real final point.

Science has not brought God on the retreat. The same fundamentals we have always attributed to God are still there. I am thankful for modernism, in my experience of talking 1 on 1 to over thousands of teens and young adults (sometimes within a year), it is the surplus and yet lack of modernism that brings people empty to start thinking that true fulfillment is from another world.

C.S. Lewis said something like this. If we are to find that our fulfillment is not gratified in this world, perhaps we should look to another.

Anthony Fleming said...

I missed putting one thing in there. My mom has not been to a hospital for now nearly 6 years after being prayed for.

People can call it whatever they want, but I do know that many of those in Charismatic churches are not there because of "common doctrine" or belief but because they saw something they believe is best explained by the man who's name was used in prayer for the Miracle to come about.

--> Insert <---
A divine healer was just recently on the Doctor Oz show. I thought it was very interesting.

cl said...

First of all, let me say that my belief in the miracles of the Bible are not because they are written in the Bible, but because I have seen them today. [Anthony Fleming, February 15, 2011 12:56 PM]

AFAICS, you're the second person who's provided a claim like this. Yet, in his opening comment, Loftus asserted--without any evidence whatsoever--that "those experiences do not convince anyone but those who already believe."

On that note...

Loftus,

You need to retract your claim, admit that you were wrong, and make the necessary emendations. Will you? Isn't that what critical thinking is all about? Following the evidence wherever it leads? You can't threaten to ban me over here, John. This is Vic's turf.

Will you please take some accountability for your claim?

Nick said...

Cl. I can't get the link to work about the threat to ban you.

But surely this isn't the same Loftus who said the following:

Randal's new book You’re Not As Crazy As I Think: Dialogue in a World of Loud Voices and Hardened Opinions is refreshing in several ways as a reminder that we need more dialogue between opposing sides, rather than more vitriol.




What Loftus gives with one hand, he takes away with the other.

Anonymous said...

Anthony Fleming wrote:

I was called up in the middle of the service and was told the very things I had been thinking about and contemplating with my life by a man who I had never met. He then prayed for me according to what he "knew" about me and the things he told me would happen in my life did happen.

Anonymous: What did he know? And what things did he tell you, which subsequently came true?

Anthony Fleming said...

He told me that I was working towards something I didn't really believe in. That I was now in a relationship with a girl who was incredibly jealous and who I didn't really love. He accurately said that the girl would get mad if I went somewhere with my family vs. being around her but that I was considering marrying her anyway because I would feel bad for her wondering if she would find a good guy. He told me that she would find another really good guy, but more quiet, within about 6 months anyway. This happened and she ended up marrying the guy. It is important to note that the girl did not know about this.

He told me that I was in a position where I was going to simply follow-through with my career choice because I don't know anything else that I would want to do and that I was doing it to please others who had worked to help me get there and not for myself. He told me that when I stopped going in that direction I would then find what I really wanted to do with my life. This happened.

He told me that lately I have been praying for guidance and help and that I told God if I didn't get such guidance then I may no longer believe in him. I had just did this the previous 2 nights.

He also told me I would see many more healings and miracles and that I would someday be able to do what he does. If you are interested in more about him I could give you more info.

Oh, he also told me that God wanted to have a bigger part in my life and that it wouldn't be long before I saw someone possessed by a demon. It happened, with the girl friend I knew just a week later. She, by the way, did not believe demons existed. He told me that when it happens to truly believe and cast it out in the name of Jesus. I did tell it to leave in the name of Jesus and she never had the problem again.

I know how crazy it all sounds, I myself sometimes blush sometimes at telling it when I get to the demon story. Just the same, it happened.

If you want more information on the guy and other things I have seen like that you can email me at anthony.r.fleming@gmail.com. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, if you aren't in the places where a miracle is likely to happen, you may never see one.

Anthony Fleming said...

I would obviously be willing to share more on here as well, not just by email.

Also, since that time I have met many others like him, some far more "anointed" or gifted. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about spiritual gifts given to the church by the Holy Spirit. Word of Knowledge and Prophecy are two of them. This, I believe, is what I experienced.

cl said...

@ Nick:

Here's the link to the censorship threat: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/05/how-do-you-know-that-which-you-claim-to.html#comment-147668945

Let me know if it still doesn't work. I've been suspecting that it might "disappear," if you know what I mean, in which case I'll provide a link to the screenshots I took.

Just for fun, here's a good "vitriol" link: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/02/another-failed-attempt-to-disabuse-me.html#comment-145492472

In case neither work:

I'm seriously considering banning you cl, as I've heard you were banned on other sites. You are much too ignorant for us to have a reasonable discussion. You need to learn from your side why your arguments are ignorant. You won't listen to us. [censorship threat]

How old are you CL? I'd guess you have not yet experienced much life. I'd say you were under the age of 21, too young to be here. I don't give a damn what you think of me of my deconversion at all. You're too stupid to realize that regardless of it you must deal with the arguments in the book. They are leading people away from you faith. [vitriol]

Classic Loftus.

Nick said...

Thank you CL. It's working now. It is classic Loftus. I've known him since before he started DC and frankly, he just gets worse and worse. There was a day and age when you could dialogue with him, but that day and age has come.

cl said...

@ Nick:

Wait! It's gets better. Now he's actually made good on the threat!

I wrote about it on my own blog, here. Have a laugh on me!

Anonymous said...

Anthony wrote:

"Oh, he also told me that God wanted to have a bigger part in my life and that it wouldn't be long before I saw someone possessed by a demon. It happened, with the girl friend I knew just a week later."

Anonymous What were the signs to you, to her, etc. that she was actually possessed?

Nick said...

Classic Loftus CL. Just classic Loftus.