Friday, October 28, 2011

Tekton Tenure: A Look Back

As an observance of Tekton’s tenth year of full time service, I’ve decided on a project some may find of historical interest – a look back at “opponents” we’ve dealt with in those years, and what (if anything) they’re up to now. The caveat on that is that I only have kept records of this sort of thing from the start of 2003, so this will be a survey starting 8, not 10 years ago; and I expect we can stop our survey at the end of 2008, since we wouldn’t expect much change from now to then. So let’s say this is a five year window we’re gazing through. I’ll leave out any dead guys I rebutted (like Remsberg) since there’s obviously nothing news about them.

Kenneth Harding – we took on this poor schlep in late 2002 and ended the treatment in January 2003. He featured a challenge to Christians asking that they fulfill Mark 16:18 by drinking poison. Harding is still around, and his pissant website is still up, though a random check shows he still has very old nonsense up from as long ago as 1998 that he has never updated. He still publishes now and then, and even has a blog, though the latter has not been updated since May 2011.

Farrell Till – we commented on Till in a prior entry here some time ago; no need to say more.

Skeptics’ Annotated Bible – of course these guys are still around; I’d hardly expect otherwise. It’s still updated maybe 3-5 times a month. I would guess Sam Harris’ endorsement has been a big help. But has the scholarship improved? You know better than that.

Edgar Foster – JW apologist. He’s still around, and he has a blog (who doesn’t??), and he also managed to get a credible doctorate in 2008. How he did that while staying a JW is one of those mysteries we’ll have to ponder. – “Christian” site that promotes polygamy. Still around, though apparently not updated often.

Lenny Flank – I took this guy on for my creationist friends. His website is now defunct, though it is mirrored by another Skeptic’s site. He also seems to have gone into more political arenas; I found a recent article by him on the crank political site Daily Kos.

Not an opponent, but TheologyWeb opened in January 2003 as well.

Kevin Graham – formerly a Mormon opponent and friend of mine, he had a rhubarb with some lead Mormon apologists and is now (at last report I got) a deist.

Donald Morgan – one of the more polite infidels out there, he’s still updating his stuff now and then at their main website.

Barry Bickmore – Mormon apologist. He seems to have gotten more into issues related to his real expertise, geochemistry, and has gotten involved in the climate change debate. It doesn’t look like he’s doing much in the way of apologetics any more.

Vincent Sapone –I noted long ago that this guy’s web presence had been substantially deactivated, but you can still find bits and pieces of it preserved. He seems to have started at some point a career as a teacher, which probably keeps him busy.

Uri Yosef – Jewish anti-missionary, and a much older fellow than I thought he was. His personal website, the Virtual Yeshiva, no longer exists, but he is associated with a site called Global Yeshiva which seems to be a team effort. I gather he is still around but has retired overall from his activities.

Wayne Harrington – what a nutcase. He’s still around with his own website, though.

Darren Geist – I’d noted in 2005 that this guy’s writings I addressed had vanished.

Joe Alward – another of the few decent Skeptics I’ve met out there, although a little weird at times. I found a website of his filled with family photos, but little indication that he’s actively doing atheist apologetics.

Frank Zindler – obviously, he’s still active today, but no smarter than he was back then.

Kyle Gerkin – best for last. I’d say the most decent of all the Skeptics I’ve met online. He wrote a piece on Mormonism in 2004, and wrote me infrequently after that; I suspect he’s still around (I found what may be personal pages of his) but doesn’t seem to be active in atheist apologetics any more.

That’s all for January through March 2003 – if you see something on any of these people I missed, let me know!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ten Years of Tekton

On this day ten years ago -- give or take a day or two; my memory isn't that precise -- Tekton took a headlong jump from part time pastime to full time ministry. As a sort of observation, here are some reflections on those past ten years.

What was the nature of the decision to pursue full time ministry, in retrospect? It was more of a risk than had been expected at the time: The actual decision to pursue ministry full time was one I had made only days before the World Trade Center disaster, and at that moment, the world seemed a safer place to most people. Economically, there was no sign we were in for several years in which we would have especially lean tidings. I imagine many people would have rethought their decision in light of those events.

Would I have made the same decision had this all be foreknown to me? Yes, I certainly would have, though I'm also fairly sure I would have planned things differently. Out of the past ten years, there have been four so far in which the ministry's finances have touched on bleak, and only two in which such worries were far from consideration. It’s too early to tell what 2012 will be like, but there are a couple of unhealthy signs ahead. Tekton has been -- probably always will be -- a shoestring operation; it's the sort of ministry that inevitably relies on assistance that is transient and sporadic, and is often the first sort of thing on the chopping block when someone's personal finances need trimming. That's just the way it is -- and it's the result of the low priority our churches have placed on education and the emphasis they have placed on experience. (It's too bad apologetics doesn't give people an emotional high, isn't it?)

I suppose I could change that some -- by making Tekton something it isn't, by compromising certain pinciples. Not something immoral, of course: I mean, for example, that I could solicit for and accept live debate challenges, which tend to be relatively significant paydays. And by now more than a few atheists would relish the chance to (so they think!) take a bite of my hide, so that'd be a considerable source of income.

But no, that's not temptation enough, sorry. I accepted a debate with Richard Carrier so that my beloved could see, probably for the final time, an elderly uncle in his 80s who lived nearby; nothing else is enough to waver the principles that I hold when it comes to thinking live debate a useless sideshow that teaches people nothing. (She has one other uncle, but -- sorry, atheists -- he's somewhat younger and not in bad health. Check with me again in 10 years.) And besides, I've had it with extended travel for a while, too.

There have been a lot of changes in ten years. For example, I'm typing this entry on a notebook computer that didn't even exist in 2001. Tekton is also doing a lot of work today on the making of films for YouTube -- which in 2001 didn’t even exist, and would not for another 4 years. One of Tekton's first projects immediately after the switch to full time was a response to "cowboy" atheist Scott Bidstrup -- who today is still around, but still has the same versions of his articles up that I addressed in 2002, and also doesn’t seem to have written on the subject of Christianity any further after that. Bidstrup is just one of several opponents who have sunk into the woodwork since then; while of course others have risen to take their place. (The quality of opposition hasn't improved, though -- if anything they've gotten worse, and that's amazing when you consider that Farrell Till was in that earlier set.)

Beyond the ministry, there's also been a delightfully heavy chunk of freelance work for other ministries. When I'd made the switch to full time, I'd had one article for the Christian Research Journal, with one more in process: not by any stretch would I have imagined that the number of articles would reach two dozen (along with other articles for my friends in creationist ministry, and a few other places). There's also been unexpected as well as humbling recognition in the form of references (citations) in books by persons I never expected recognition from when all this first started: Lee Strobel, Daniel Block, Wayne House, Daniel Howard-Snyder, Robert Stacy McCain. There have been references in some very odd places as well: Perhaps the oddest of all, Tekton's article on Esther is referenced in a book by Matthew Stroud titled Plot Twists and Critical Turns: Queer Approaches to Early Modern Spanish Theater. If you'd told me in 2001 that there'd be a reference like that, I'd have probably suggested a place for you in a mental health facility.)

In all, rather unexpected for a shoestring operation that to this day operates out of one corner of a second bedroom. It remains to be seen what changes and morphings the next ten years will bring, but this much can be said: What has happened has exceeded my expectations, and what remains to be accomplished will be a matter of exploring new ground. I'd like to continue to put out books, whether e-books or standard print; I've also set a goal of having more YouTube apologetics vids on my channel than any other channel with an apologetics focus. That may not be hard; I've seen no channel with more than a few hundred such vids, though it is hard to count at times because some of them also upload personal vids on their channel. It would also be nice to drive a few more atheists there into submission. But it's likely TektonTV will reach 100 vids by the end of the year, and I'd like to reach at least 1000. With the current level of production, that will happen well before the end of the next ten years.

At the very least -- it'll be interesting!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Is Atheism? Part 6: What About the Theistic Proofs?

Nick Peters continues his review.


As we continue our journey through Krueger’s work on atheism, we come to his chapter on theistic proofs. Keep in mind that Krueger has an allergy to citing in this book. Who are the people giving the arguments? We don’t know. Where do they say them? We don’t know. How do they defend them? We don’t know.

Krueger starts with the design argument. I won’t say anything about the science aspect of this. I am not a scientist and if someone wants to read that side, there are plenty of books on the topic. In some ways, I agree with Krueger. If all you have is “The universe is designed” it is not enough to establish classical theism. Philosophy has to take over at that point. I do agree that it can be a good start and that would be fine.

Krueger does say that God in Genesis uses magic words to create the universe, a comment laughable in itself. No surprise that he uses the argument of “Who designed God?” The argument assumes God is designed, something I dealt with in my argument of Dawkins and the 747 Boeing. (See link.)

Krueger does have some criticisms as well on what the argument does not show. It does not show that this God is the Christian God. It does not show that there is only one creator. It fails to show that God still exists, is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, or omniscient. I agree with all of those. However, I do agree that it establishes likely some kind of theism and that is all that is needed.

Next we move to the cosmological argument. At least at this point he does mention Aquinas, but like Dawkins, Krueger does not understand Aquinas. One hopes that there is some glimmer of light coming through when Krueger says that a contingent being is that which is caused to exist by something other than itself. A necessary being is not caused to exist by another. I could disagree with some aspects of that, but I will explain that soon. The problem is that Krueger states that a necessary being is caused to exist by its own nature. If he is speaking of God, God is not caused by anything. I do agree that something could be necessary but always be dependent on another. I don’t think this is the case, but I am open.

Krueger says that it does not follow that there is only one first mover. With this, Krueger shows he does not understand the argument and likely is thinking motion refers to physical motion when it refers to any change whatsoever. There can only be one being who is being itself for if there was another, they would have to differ in some aspect of being and how could pure being differ from pure being?

How can it be sure that God still exists? Because the first mover has divine simplicity and cannot change and going out of existence would count as a change. He is eternal and outside of time. The same kind of thing can be said for all of Krueger’s other objections and had he actually read the Summa Theologica, he would have seen that Aquinas argues for the love of God, the knowledge of God, and the power of God from reason.

Krueger also says that Aquinas assumed an infinite regress was impossible. He did no such thing. In fact, he was open to an infinite regress. He would disagree with Craig today in saying that the universe cannot be proven to have a beginning by an infinite regress argument that is horizontal. This is stated in Question 46, article 2, of the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologica. Aquinas believes the universe had a beginning because Scripture says so. He says philosophy cannot show that.

But some of you are saying “But in his divine proofs, he does say we have to avoid an infinite regress.”

You are correct, for there are two kinds of infinite regresses. The first is a per accidens. In this one, the existence of that which is present in no way requires the current existence of that which was past. Suppose my wife and I want to start having children and while deciding this, in a horrible tragedy, our parents die in car accidents. Does this mean we cannot have children? In no way. Our ability to have children does not depend on our parents.

Now suppose a chain of gears is moving and they are all being moved by one big gear. This is going on for eternity. Then all of a sudden, we find a way to remove the big gear. Do the little gears stop? Yes they do. Their motion is dependent on the big gear and this is a different kind of regress called a per se regress.

Aquinas’s classic example is a hand moving a stick that is moving a rock. If the hand goes away, all movement stops. This is the kind of regress he is speaking of in his divine proofs. There has to be something that is the cause of motion in all other things to explain their motion, yet it itself is not in motion.

Could the first cause have been the universe itself as Krueger says? No. The universe is material and that which is material in Aquinas is that which is always in a state of potential and thus cannot be purely actual. Again, this is really basic Aquinas and that Krueger writes on this shows he does not understand the basics of Aquinas.

These are the only kinds of arguments dealt with. Krueger might think he’s dealt with other arguments like the moral argument or the argument from the resurrection, but he does not. He also seems to coalesce all of Aquinas’s arguments into one, but they are each different in their own way.

Chapter 7 next time.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Defeating the Dingbats

This past week there was a most revealing exchange with a head-between-the-cheeks fundy named Ed Dingess, who came out in support of Norman Geisler's stance with respect to Mike Licona. Having claimed to have read the defenses offered by Geisler, Licona, and myself, Caveman Ed, as I now call him, then proceeded to "respond" -- by doing no more than reiterating Geisler's own stance as though nothing had been said in reply to it.

Was that all? No, not quite; there was also an extended, sermonizing admonition about not making scholarship into a "trophy" that one held dear to self. An admonition all the more ironic from Caveman Ed, since he plasters himself as “Dr. Dingess” and proudly lists his degrees on his blog...even though they come from a non-accredited school (Tyndale Theological Seminary) which makes them about as useful as toilet paper.

The mode of his response on Geisler is, as noted, most revealing. At its heart is an implacable arrogance that is so pure that it becomes almost innocent -- an obscene sort of innocence, to be sure, but one so insulated in its arrogance and self-assurance that it sees no need to respond to arguments made against its position. Instead, the assumption is made that the position is secure, and impossible to improve upon; thus all that is left to do is to turn the "debate" into an occasion to warn possibly wayward souls away from the dangers of dissent; to affirm that there is no reason to disagree with the status quo aside from being a wretched sinner in need of dispensed grace. It is furthermore a chance to remind the guilty and gullible Christian that “Satan” is behind such interpretations as the one Licona used (presumably when Satan isn’t busy ruining Joyce Meyer’s BBQs).

The ills of the modern, Western church are a multifaceted problem, and this in itself is one facet, closely related (though it seems not on the surface) to the problem of pathological literalism as an interpretive tool, and anachronism as a guideline for exegesis Licona's initial suggestion -- that Matthew interrupted historical narrative to use a poetic device -- is, as we have pointed out in Ticker posts, not an unreasonable supposition given the nature of ancient composition; it does bear a significant burden of proof, but it cannot simply be dismissed on the assumption of uniformity.

Uniformity, however, does lies at the heart of such objection as Geisler made, as well as the sort of objection made by one of similar mindset, Robert Thomas, as we have recorded:

I've answered points claiming contradiction between Matt and Luke's versions of the Sermon on the Mount by noting that Matt's version is likely to be an anthology -- a collection of Jesus' teachings, organized by Matthew according to his purpose as the composer of a handbook of faith; whereas Luke is more on the historical side, and reports what was actually said on that occasion.

No big problem. Both writers were following standard literary and historical practices for the time. But Thomas insists that such an approach "inevitably leads to diminishing historical accuracy in the Gospels" -- for you see, Matthew 5:1-2 "indicates Jesus began at a certain point to give the Sermon's contents." And what of the literary-device explanation above? Thomas wonders, then, "why would (Matthew) mislead his readers" into thinking that Jesus made this full sermon on one occasion?

What is missing here: This was a normal practice for the day. No one would be "misled" into thinking this was a full sermon because no one would have thought it was meant to be recorded as such in the first place. But Thomas, clearly, does not agree, with comments like this in response to Blomberg's assertion that Biblical writers followed the typical practices for composers of the day: "Despite what the practice of ancient historians may have been, Matthew's intention to cite a continuous discourse from a single occasion is conspicuous. Was he mistaken?" "No matter what the alleged motives of the writers in so doing, that kind of action is fundamentally problematic at best and dishonest at worst." (!) The only difference between these comment and comments like C. Dennis McKinsey's "read the Bible like a newspaper" is that McKinsey is nastier in his formulations. And yet we are told that it is we who propose such solutions who are "run(ning) roughshod over the historicity of the Sermon's introductory and concluding formulas".

You might wonder, of course, how Thomas suggests that we resolve the differences in the Sermon, and his answer is: By harmonization -- of an extreme, unnecessary sort. Put it this way: Did Jesus say, "Blessed are the poor" or "Blessed are the poor in spirit"? Thomas replies: He said both, and on the same occasion. Matt and Luke just chose to report one or the other: "Most probably Jesus repeated this beatitude in at least two different forms when he preached His Sermon on the Mount/Plain, using the third person once and the second person another time and referring to the Kingdom of God by different titles." Odd here how omission is not a sin; but commission is. I thought it was Matthew's intent to show he was citing a continuous discourse? If that is the case, isn't he "misleading" his readers by not giving a full report and leaving things out?

Thomas is also responsible for a great deal of the book's panic-polemic, and some of his claims (and others in the book) are either misrepresenting their source or are just plain wrong. "(Craig) Blomberg attributes a higher degree of accuracy to modern historians than to Spirit-inspired writers of the Gospels in ancient times." If by this you mean, Blomberg says that modern historians revere "accuracy" in the sense of not being inclined towards literary practices that we would consider "inaccurate", but the ancients would NOT consider "inaccurate," then you are right: But to frame the matter in a way that suggests that Blomberg thinks that the Gospels contain fabrications is off base.

There is a sentiment in such arguments that, first of all, the Bible should reflect the perception of order held by the reader -- in this case, modeled upon Western precision-literalism, and the alleged “Christian ethic” developed in Western churches. Any suggestion that the text might vary from this order or ethic is looked upon as a deception. We have commented on this enough times, but would now add this dimension: That there is likely also a sort of psychological security sought by those like Thomas and Caveman Ed, in saying that the Scriptures present that uniform face. It is this same psychology that also rejects external contexts (like the social sciences) as interpretative lenses, and results in the objection that such factors are "not in the text" and are therefore off limits. (Thus as well, linguistics -- Hebrew and Greek -- are the only context admitted; for it can hardly be denied that the Scriptures were written in these languages; it's "in the text". But this is also overcome easily by assigning modern values to the semantic range of the words used; eg, "love" is not collectivist and utilitarian care under God's umbrella, but modern sentimentalism.)

Thus, Thomas and Caveman Ed, in their arrogance, also presume to rewrite the Bible in their image, and remake God in their image as well. The extreme of this is the "buddy Jesus" construction, or the health and wealth gospel. But the less spectacular manifestations are no less false for their lack of sparkle.

And thus as well, our point for today: Leaders and followers like Geisler, Thomas, and Caveman Ed in essence hold us hostage to their own insecurities. That is why it is so crucial that they be confronted, that they be challenged, and that they not be permitted to peddle their deceptions without rebuke. They must not be allowed to spread their insecurities and thereby weaken the Body of Christ. It is to the end of stopping such deception that we will continue pressuring Geisler to answer our challenge.