Monday, May 08, 2006

N. T Wright on various things

Including the Da Vinci code. You know, I wonder if there isn't some embarrassment on the skeptical side of this issue with respect to this movie. It offers an alternative to the Resurrection scenario, but one that is simply lacks plausibility upon close examination. It opens the door for apologists to argue for the Resurrection against the Da Vinci Code. But I think the skeptic can do better than the Da Vinci code, so maybe the Internet Infidels, not the Catholic Church, should be protesting against it.


Anonymous said...

Dr Reppert,
The article said:
"Gnosticism was a rival version of Christianity that was suppressed in the early church by what became the orthodox view."

I have read a fair amount of material by Pagels and Ehrman dealing with the above issue. Are you aware of a good online article countering their ideas of gnosticism being the true orthodox Christianity and intent of Jesus?

Victor Reppert said...

Actually, N. T. Wright is pretty good on this stuff, if you can get more detail on that. Also Ben Witherington, who is a blogger, can also be recommended.

It is interesting that the Apostles' Creed was designed to screen out gnostics; everything in that whole creed denies some central claim of gnosticism.

Steven Carr said...

I don't think either Ehrman or Pagels say there ever was a 'true orthodox Christainity and intent of Jesus'.

I see no reason why sceptics should be ashamed of this movie anymore than they should be ashamed of 'The Passion of the Christ'.

Neither was meant to be true.

Hume's Ghost said...

Dr. Reppert,

Leading skeptic magazines such as Skeptic, Free Inquiry, and Skeptical Inquirer have all devoted time to debunking the book.

See here, for example.

Steven Carr said...

Bart Ehrman has an excellent book on the Da Vinci Code.

I really don't understand the fuss about the book.

Are there people who think it is true?

It is just a story surely.

Am I missing something?

Staircaseghost said...

Why in Hades would the Internet Infidels be "protesting against" any movie?

Your post presents a valuable opportunity to get a handle on how "the other half" thinks. Here is how we think.

There is no such thing as "the atheist position" on anything. There is, however, a general mindset that distinguishes the nonbeliever from the believer, and it is this.

We are able to distinguish fantasy from reality. The Da Vinci Code is fantasy. So is, in general, anything involving hobbits, witches, talking snakes, global floods, or zombie rabbis. As a consequence of the distinction between fantasy and reality, we recognize that not everything is an attempt to convey a literal truth.

There is a second, and related faculty, which is the ability to tell the difference between entertainment and an ideological salvo in the culture wars. For a totalizing and totalitarian worldview such as Islamism or Christianism in which every single emission of the human psyche is being scrutinized for its conformity with moral orthodoxy, then every beer commercial is "an assault on the kingdom of God", but for those of us in the reality-based community some things are just cheap popcorn timewasters.


Hume's Ghost said...


It is fiction, but in the book's opening Brown writes:

"“All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”

Which is what spurred the skeptic publications to respond, seeing as that statement is false or misleading.

Jason Pratt said...

Leaving aside Hiero's somewhat clumsy rhetorical insistence that there is no such thing as "the atheist position" on anything (...really? Some atheists actually believe that the Judeo-Christian God exists??)--

The problem isn't that TDVC is fictional. Nor is the problem that TDVC happens to be very popular fiction.

The problem is that, much like other fiction, the author uses his fictional slate as a way of illustrating certain principles--in itself, not necessarily a problem, but where principles conflict then (by tautology) there is a conflict of principles. When the chief protagonist, early in the book, tells his fictional audience that the next time the guys have sex they ought to try using the woman as a tool for their own feeling of spiritual 'enlightenment' (not put quite that way, but that's what it comes down to); then I think such an abuse of the woman is still wrong in principle, whether it happens in a fictional book or in real life--where such a thing can, in fact, easily be attempted (and not unfrequently is attempted in certain cultures today). And it disturbs me that the women in the audience are painted as cheerfully agreeing that it would be very nifty to be used in such a way. But more importantly, it disturbs me that nothing later in the story seems to be put against this notion. Maybe Dan Brown intends to introduce a corrective in the sequel; but based on the sort of things he says in public, so far I have my doubts about that. (Although I would very much like to be wrong, in this case.)

Ideas, put into practice, have practical consequences. Even fictional stories present ideas, for a reader to accept or reject in principle. And when DB goes out on tour, he _isn't_ saying (or doesn't seem to be saying), "Guys, chill, this is only a story which has virtually no relevance to real life." On the contrary, it's reasonably clear that a large part of his _very_ successful marketing hinges on making his book as relevant as possible to real-life belief--or rejection thereof. The same is true about a currently popular author of an even more obviously fictional story, Philip Pullman.

It's naive to accuse dissenters of being merely naive about whether or not an author is making truth-claims, when his overt success hinges largely on doing precisely that. And it's naive to think that what these people are saying doesn't matter. It's even intensely disrespectful to the authors themselves.

J.K. Rowling goes around specifically saying she has never had any intention of promoting the sort of things which some of my touchier allies have regularly laid against her. I'm willing to believe her; consequently, I don't consider her stories to be intended for that sort of thing. (Which is different from having a concern that they will inadvertently teach bad principles here and there; less, I think, from being intentionally trying to teach them, as simply from being a bit sloppy.) But Dan Brown isn't like that. He _is_ presenting himself as making truth claims, and ones which are relevant to real-life. Same with Pullman. So is Rowling, really, though the particular claims of truth she's backing _outside_ the story aren't all that contentious. But Brown _is_ being overtly contentious.

Am I (as an author of fiction myself) being hypocritical about this? No--I'm being realistic. I know very well that if my own stories take off, some Christians are going to publicly flame me, misunderstanding what it is I'm doing (which I can hardly hold against them, seeing as in some cases I'm playing my cards pretty close to my vest). And, some Christians are going to publicly flame me when they _do_ understand what it is that I'm doing. Which (again) I will not hold against them (in and of itself): that's part of the risk of saying one thing and not another, in a venue where people think that the truth of an issue _is_ important. If I didn't think it was important, I wouldn't say it.

Similarly, I'm willing to bet a Coke that sooner or later (depending on popularity of the work) various sceptics are going to come out to take swings at my use of a theistic argument-from-morality in an early chapter, and/or at my use of an anti-theistic argument-from-injustice in a later chapter (since, after all, the fellow who promotes it is clearly a villain--though I do have at least one major protagonist who believes much the same thing, and is clearly a good man anyway.) I would be more than a little unfair, however, to complain about that opposition (even aside from marketing concerns). Ideas are important, and sometimes even among opponents certain ideas are important for roughly equivalent reasons. Including in the case of an obviously fictional work (such as an epic fantasy).

But historical claims, such as what DB _is_ trying to make (whether or not he may believe those claims himself), matter even more, when they're connected to principles and applications. Otherwise, the argument from Christian historical misbehavior wouldn't be so popular among unbelievers, would it? {g}

Jason Pratt