Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Historical Argument for God

Here.  By Peter Kreeft.

27 comments:

B. Prokop said...

I most liked the line, " If atheism is true, there are no adventures, nothing has intrinsic significance, life is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". But life is not that. Life is a story. Stories are not told by idiots."

I'm not so sure that one can call the Historical Argument as being one for God, but rather as one against materialism. As I've pointed out in other discussions on this site, stories are non-material objects with objective existence. So also is meaning.

The materialist is stuck with a mass of events that make up no narrative and are bereft of meaning. (By the way, the use of the word "bereft" is most appropriate here. Google defines the term thusly: "deprived of or lacking something, especially a nonmaterial asset" (emphasis added)

BillB said...

Personally, I don't find this at all compelling. In order of Kreeft's sub-arguments:

1) Meaningfulness of history: My life has meaning to me. Human history has meaning, collectively, to us. There is no intrinsic meaning because "meaning" cannot exist in a vacuum.

2) Moral design: This makes sense with a purely human definition of morality. That which is moral makes us truly happy, and tends also to be physically good for us. Groups that act morally tend to be happier and healthier than those who do not. This is not surprising.

3) Providential coincidences in the Bible assume the Bible's historicity. In my own life I don't see them as anything more than coincidences.

4) This argument from miracles again assumes the historicity of the Bible. I'm not about to spend large amounts of time and money to investigate something like the "blood of Saint Januarius", which could easily be faked in some way difficult for a third party to investigate. I'll be very interested if someone ever wins the Randi $1M challenge, however!

5) History of Christ: Again, assumes the historicity of the Bible, especially the gospels.

6) The Saints: Christians, on average, aren't truly moral any more than other people in my experience.

7) Conversion of the world: If Christianity is true because it has successfully won converts, then so must Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism be true.

8) Individual history: Been there, done that. I've specifically asked God to reveal Himself to me countless times. Forty years and counting. Don't worry, I won't quit. :)

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Victor, which of these sub-arguments do you think are sound (deductive) arguments or strong (inductive) arguments?

im-skeptical said...

"The materialist is stuck with a mass of events that make up no narrative and are bereft of meaning."

horse-pucky

Papalinton said...

The historical argument for god? Hardly. Each one is a theological assertion, not an historical argument. And as Skep points out Kreeft's propositions are predicated on nothing more than, 'the buybull tells us so'. The theological circularity of his arguments is as unerring as the use of a compass.

Here is a fascinating fact about human nature and human behaviour:

"How is all this related to religious beliefs? Easy: Like faith, this is a deception (and self-deception) that keeps us happy. Placebo buttons, says David McRaney, "… are a lot like superstitions, or ancient rituals. You do something in the hopes of an outcome — [and] if you get the outcome, you keep the superstition. Dancing to bring the rain, sacrificing a goat to get the sun to rise — it turns out these are a lot like pressing the button at the crosswalk over and over again. Your brain doesn’t like randomness, and so it tries to connect a cause to every effect; when it can’t, you make one up."

Dan Gillson said...

Thank God BillB gave Skep a template for his blog post. Skep would be lost without it.

B. Prokop said...

When I first read this piece, I must admit that I was a bit underwhelmed. But just a short time later I happened to be reading John Henry Newman's sermon on the text "Wisdom is justified of her children." (Matthew 11:19), given at Oxford University on December 11, 1831. In it he says, "It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing." His point? Faith is a matter of experience as much as it is of the intellect. Just as History is soaked in meaning and significance, and can point the discerning person toward God, so is an individual's personal experience.

I could convince Linton (heck, even Skep - miracles do happen) of the Truth of the Gospel to the point where he repents in dust and ashes of his current error, but unless he acquires Faith, I have accomplished nothing. ("You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder." (James 2:19))

Dave Duffy said...

Thanks Victor,

The post was helpful to me. I hope you continue to find interesting things for me to consider.

Mook Vanguard said...

@Papalinton

Genetic fallacy. That the cause of a belief can be explained does not make it a false belief. Otherwise we can throw out all of science as being a huge appeal to authority since most people do not perform scientific investigation.

Papalinton said...

Bob says, "I could convince Linton (heck, even Skep - miracles do happen) of the Truth of the Gospel to the point where he repents in dust and ashes of his current error, but unless he acquires Faith, I have accomplished nothing."

Absolutely correct, you have accomplished nothing. The 'trooth' of the gospels can only be arrived at by a belief in a failed epistemology, faith.

I match your bible quotes with these:
"When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." Stephen Roberts

"Believe nothing,
No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it,
Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense."
the Buddha

"To understand via the heart is not to understand. Michel de Montaigne

"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime; give a man religion and he will die praying for a fish." Anonymous

"Do not pass by my epitaph, traveler.
But having stopped, listen and learn, then go your way.
There is no boat in Hades, no ferryman Charon,
No caretaker Aiakos, no dog Cerberus.
All we who are dead below
Have become bones and ashes, but nothing else.
I have spoken to you honestly, go on, traveler,
Lest even while dead I seem talkative to you."
Ancient Roman tombstone


"An atheist doesn’t have to be someone who thinks he has a proof that there can’t be a god. He only has to be someone who believes that the evidence on the God question is at a similar level to the evidence on the werewolf question." John McCarthy

Legion of Logic said...

And as Skep points out Kreeft's propositions are predicated on nothing more than, 'the buybull tells us so'.

Does failing to properly spell "Bible" somehow strengthen your position? Because thus far, the most positive thing it has accomplished is to make you look silly.

B. Prokop said...

One Glory of the Gospel is that it reaches us at every level of our being: our intellect, our emotions, our experiences (both individual and corporate), our love of beauty, our physical natures, our thirst for justice, indeed our very souls. So we should find no cause for surprise at the existence of an "Historical Argument". Its non-existence would be a far greater wonder.

As for Dr. Kreeft's version, I think he saves his strongest points for last. To me at least, his arguments 5 through 8 have far greater force than the first four. As someone said quite recently (I can't remember who), "We must always remember that God is not a proposition to be proven, but a Person to be encountered." That's the real meaning of the Historical Argument; that we meet God not so much in syllogisms or even via the Five Ways, but rather in History - our own personal history and our collective experiences.

Perhaps some of the atheists, who (for reasons they themselves do not admit) are drawn to this site and others like it, would profit by avoiding for a time both the apologists and the new atheists, and instead read the Lives of the Saints. (I would suggest starting with Saints Francis, Dominic, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and Theresa of Lisieux, as well as the not-yet saints Franz Jaegerstaetter and Dorothy Day.)

B. Prokop said...

Legion,

You're correct, but what really makes Skep look silly are statements such as this: "The earliest writings in the NT (from Paul) don't ascribe to Jesus any kind of divine status"

Really? I guess Skep glossed over passages such as these:

"He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God"

He [Jesus Christ] was in the form of God"

"in him [Christ] all things were created, in Heaven and on Earth, visible and invisible ... all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

"at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord"

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood." (Just think about what that would scream out to any First Century Jew hearing of this. Who is it who time and again establishes covenants with Mankind, whether it be with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David? None but God.)

And Skep acknowledges that these words predate the Gospels. So the idea of Christ being divine is not some late invention, not some post-apostolic mythologizing, but was known and proclaimed from the very beginning. So much for the "Quadrilemma"!

Papalinton said...

"Does failing to properly spell "Bible" somehow strengthen your position?"

Who said it was a failing? In response to your question, yes. If one subscribes to a mythos as an explanation for reality, one does in effect 'buy bull'. Just as you, a christian, refuse to subscribe to the central Islamic 'trooths' that Muhammad flew to heaven on the back of a winged horse, so too is the Muslim perfectly and legitimately in their rights to reject the central christian tenet of jesus as the son of god, due to the paucity of any compelling evidence even after 600 years of christian hegemony in the Middle East.

More pointedly, Judaism, the progenitor of the bastard child, christianity, never for one moment bought into the apparently compelling 'slam dunk' evidence of the New Testament, even as it was being developed around them. Jews and Muslims are as unconvinced of any compelling evidence, proofs or facts in support of the christian narrative today as at any time over the past 2,000 years.

As Gary Gutting, Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame U recently so intellectually and eruditely noted faith is a failed epistemology: "Your religious beliefs typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The spiritual experiences of people in ancient Greece, medieval Japan or 21st-century Saudi Arabia do not lead to belief in Christianity. It seems, therefore, that religious belief very likely tracks not truth but social conditioning."

finney said...

"Your religious beliefs typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The spiritual experiences of people in ancient Greece, medieval Japan or 21st-century Saudi Arabia do not lead to belief in Christianity. It seems, therefore, that religious belief very likely tracks not truth but social conditioning."

This also happens to be true when you replace "religious beliefs" with (a) "philosophical beliefs", (c) "political beliefs", (d) "beliefs the truth of which the scientific community has reached a consensus on", etc.

Papalinton said...

Mook Vanguard
"Otherwise we can throw out all of science as being a huge appeal to authority since most people do not perform scientific investigation."

If there is a fallacy, Mook, it is very much embedded in this statement of yours. If we were to rewrite your statement, the nonsense of it becomes immediately apparent and falls out without too much shaking, a bit like a bad case of dandruff: 'Otherwise we can throw out all of christian theology as being a huge appeal to authority since most people do not perform miracles."

If there is an 'authority' that one could legitimately and properly appeal to, it is most certainly that of science and scientists. After all there are almost incalculable numbers of scientists from all walks of life that actually perform scientific investigations every day of every minute, contributing substantively to humanity's growing commonwealth of knowledge and understanding.

Theological knowledge? Not so much. Christian knowledge and understanding is pretty much constrained and confined with virtually no transfer value outside the christian sphere of influence. [Go ask a Muslim downyown whether the christian 'trooth' or Mulism 'trooth' is the universal truth?] Equally, Islamic knowledge and understanding is the exclusive preserve of Muslim scholars and which too, has almost zero relevance and impact outside Muslim circles, especially for christians.

In other words science is universal knowledge and understanding. In contrast Christianity and Islam are wholly sectarian and tribal in nature, in practice and in conception.

Papalinton said...

Go ask a Muslim downtown ...

Papalinton said...

"This also happens to be true when you replace "religious beliefs" with (a) "philosophical beliefs", (c) "political beliefs", (d) "beliefs the truth of which the scientific community has reached a consensus on", etc."

Religious beliefs = philosophical beliefs = scientific beliefs? Bit of a stretch, No?

Your claim runs counter to historical fact. "The Enlightenment begins with the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The rise of the new science progressively undermines not only the ancient geocentric conception of the cosmos, but, with it, the entire set of presuppositions that had served to constrain and guide philosophical inquiry. The dramatic success of the new science in explaining the natural world, in accounting for a wide variety of phenomena by appeal to a relatively small number of elegant mathematical formulae, promotes philosophy (in the broad sense of the time, which includes natural science) from a handmaiden of theology, constrained by its purposes and methods, to an independent force with the power and authority to challenge the old and construct the new, in the realms both of theory and practice, on the basis of its own principles." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

oozzielionel said...

"Your claim runs counter to historical fact." Yet what you cited was an interpretation of history, not an historical fact.

Papalinton said...

oozielionel, the rise and rise of science as the most powerful explanatory tool yet discovered is pretty much grounded in fact. Wherever science and theology make the same claim it is theology that has had to concede historically. To think otherwise is simply anti-scientism.

Victor Reppert said...

In response to the claim that the historical arguments just assume the historicity of the Bible, I would just argue that this isn't quite the case, since there is considerable archaeological justification for much of the Bible's historicity.

Victor Reppert said...

That said, I think a lot of the time with Kreeft's arguments, they seem as if they need a lot of further development before we can assess them as strong or weak.

Papalinton said...

"In response to the claim that the historical arguments just assume the historicity of the Bible, I would just argue that this isn't quite the case, since there is considerable archaeological justification for much of the Bible's historicity."

Pray tell. I'm all ears.

They've located the cross?
They've located the empty tomb?
Nazareth was a bustling town at the time of Jesus big enough to warrant a synagogue?
Archeology has discovered the mass grave of all the male children killed by Herod in Bethlehem?

If the sum of the collection of archeological proofsARE THESE, then Dan Brown's 'The Davinci Code" cannot be construed as anything other than an historical narrative.

Papalinton said...

In regard of the historicity of Jesus one need only read Dr Reza Aslan, internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, to appreciate the tenuous nature of the historical claims of the bible.

In part he notes: "And yet that best, most educated guess may be enough to, at the very least, question our most basic assumptions about Jesus of Nazareth. If we expose the claims of the gospels to the heat of historical analysis, we can purge the scriptures of their literary and theological flourishes and forge a far more accurate picture of the Jesus of history. Indeed, if we commit to placing Jesus firmly within the social, religious, and political context of the era in which he lived — an era marked by the slow burn of a revolt against Rome that would forever transform the faith and practice of Judaism — then, in some ways, his biography writes itself. The Jesus that is uncovered in the process may not be the Jesus we expect; he certainly will not be the Jesus that most modern Christians would recognize. But in the end, he is the only Jesus that we can access by historical means.

Everything else is a matter of faith."


In respect of the archeological assertions about the historicity of the bible I guess you have as yet to read Al Finkelstein and Herb Silberman's seminal archeological work, "The Bible Unearthed".



BillB said...

In response to the claim that the historical arguments just assume the historicity of the Bible, I would just argue that this isn't quite the case, since there is considerable archaeological justification for much of the Bible's historicity.

But it's precisely the miracle accounts that are at issue here, and it's impossible to assess the probability of a miracle using the tools of an historian. Or so says Bart Ehrman, anyway.

The Bible could be 100% accurate in all its mundane historical details, but to my mind this doesn't make its miracle accounts even a bit more (or less) likely.

I'm sure the Qu'ran is generally accurate historically, but I'd hold its theological pronouncements with the same skepticism -- as I'm sure would you.

Note, finally, that Kreeft doesn't mention any of this; he takes the Bible's perfect accuracy for granted. Seems a bit disingenuous to assume something so important without being explicit about it; unless, of course, one is merely preaching to the choir.

B. Prokop said...

I can't believe I'm writing this, but there's actually an interesting spinoff conversation related to this topic over on Skep's blog, HERE.

Victor Reppert said...

Initial probabilities concerning miracles are bound to differ. On my view that's inescapable. Suppose there is evidence for a supernaturalist interpretation of the events surrounding the founding of Christianity such that they make more sense given the Jesus rose from the dead than if he did not rise from the dead. It seems to me that one rational person might say "Well, given everything else I believe to be true, the most reasonable thing for me to do would be to accept the resurrection." But another might say "Yeah, that's evidence for the resurrection all right, but it's not enough. You need more extraordinary evidence than that to convince me." On my view, neither response is necessarily open to a charge of irrationality.