Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lennox's 10, Part IV

In this blog entry, I continue my examination of Oxford Professor and Christian apologist John Lennox’s reactions to common objections to Christianity. This is the fourth entry in this series. The first two entries can be found here:
In the present entry, I consider Lennox’s reaction to the seventh and eighth claims which he considers, namely that the internal splintering within Christianity dividing it into doctrinally conflicted denominations implies the falsehood of Christianity and “the Bible is immoral.”

The seventh prompt is given as follows:
7) Christianity claims to be true, but there loads of denominations and they all disagree with each other, so it must be false.
The article responds:
Why does the existence of denominations imply Christianity is false? It might imply that Christians have very different personalities and cultures – or even that Christians aren't good at getting on with each other – but not that Christianity isn't true.
What’s ignored here is that the divisions where various sect and denominations clash with one another are not due primarily to the “different personalities or cultures” involved, but to the disparate and incompatible doctrinal differences which divide them theologically. In other words, the conflicts which divide the many, many denominations within Christianity arise from the very root which distinguishes Christianity from other religions, namely Christian theology.

The vast majority of denominations have arisen due to conflicts over specific Christian doctrines, such as the nature salvation, the nature of authority, the nature of fellowship, the nature of sin, the nature of redemption, the nature of creation, the nature of providence, the nature of human volition, the nature of revelation, the nature of interpretation, the nature of sexual orientation, the nature of mental disorders, the nature of genetic disorders, etc., etc.

Doctrinal disputes are already evident even in Paul’s letters, documents included in the New Testament! That’s how far back divisions within Christianity can be traced; and they just mushroom from that point, Christianity’s very inception. Paul labored furiously to correct churches he nurtured from straying from what he considered the true path. In many cases he had either founded the church or at least personally visited it and taught there, and yet later he would learn that they’re departing from the teachings he had given them. Where’s the “Holy Spirit” in all this? Isn’t the “Holy Spirit” supposed to ensure that believers maintain their salvation and remain on the true path? What exactly were Paul’s teachings when he visited these churches? If we go by the letters he wrote, what he taught does not mirror much of what we read in the gospel narratives. Moreover, a comparison of the book of Acts with Paul’s letters reveals some disheartening conflicts as well.

The presence of doctrinal conflicts within Christianity is not a good sign that Christianity enjoys stable internal health as a worldview. And when we discover that many of these internal splits revolve around issues that Christianity itself characterizes as having fundamental doctrinal importance for the believer – involving issues such as original sin, baptism, the role of the church, the very nature of salvation itself – our confidence (for those on the outside anyway) that Christianity has any value to offer immediately begins to diminish. When we discover that these conflicts over fundamental matters arise because of not only sloppy handling of matters within the “sacred text” itself (it fails miserably when it comes to defining key terms and using them consistently), but because of actual doctrinal contradictions, the picture gets even darker. Even worse, Christianity’s utter lack of rationally demonstrable principles at its very foundations is arguably the root cause of its internal splintering. Since believers have no alternative but to accept its teachings and doctrines on faith, subjective whim is, ultimately, the only “standard” available to Christianity.

My guess is that Lennox will be all too happy to sweep these facts under the rug and cling to slogans and sound bites in order to sustain belief in that which is rationally unbelievable.

The article quotes Prof. Lennox:
"There are all kinds of different kinds of teams in football, but they all play football," said Prof Lennox.
This is the kind of “logic” that is offered when outsiders note the striking doctrinal divisions plaguing all of Christendom: there may be different teams, but the fact that they’re competing against each other does not indicate that there’s any internal problem here. And yet, not only is “doctrine” so important when it comes to making it into an eternity of bliss, Christianity as such is supposed to be a “revealed” religion – i.e., but its tenets and doctrines were supposedly given to man from a single, all-knowing, infallible source. Moreover, believers claim to be led by “the Holy Spirit” – a member of the “Trinity” which spiritually resides in believers and somehow guides them on the right path.

What Lennox’s analogy ignores is the fact that, while there may be many different football teams, they all agree to the same rules. And yet, it is the rules themselves – i.e., doctrinal tenets – in which different Christian denominations find their conflicts. Given the source which Christians claim for their worldview and the cross-denominational claim that they are guided by an infallible, all-knowing supernatural being whose will is irresistible, such a state of affairs is inexplicable. Any attempt to explain it always ends up putting the fault on the shoulders of men. But since we are also told that the Christian god is calling all the shots (cf. the cartoon universe of Christianity), such attempts immediately ring hollow.

The trivializing effect of Lennox’s words on the whole matter should strike any Christian as deeply unsettling, for his statements appear to be expressly intended to give the impression that the differences between the many, many denominations within Christianity have little if any spiritual consequence. But any self-conscious believer is going to be quite concerned that the doctrines which he is taught and which he accepts are divinely authorized; he will also be aware that there are many false doctrines out there as well which must be avoided at all cost. Indeed, the New Testament is full of warnings against false doctrines (see for example here). Without a foundation in objective principles, how can the believer objectively distinguish between doctrines which may be false? Indeed, it may be that within Christianity, all of its doctrines are false, however they are informed amongst the denominations, but believers are philosophically defenseless when it comes to identifying falsehoods, especially if he’s already swallowed some that poison the whole lot!

As with anything else in life, there are many wrong ways to do things, but only one right way to do them. In the case of the equation “2 + 2 = X,” there is an endless series of incorrect answers for X, but only one correct answer. And when it comes to pleasing a god that the believer cannot reason with (one underlying lesson of Genesis 22 is that Abraham was not going to try to talk his god out of the command to prepare Isaac as a sacrifice), you are either spot on, or entirely off. In I John 1:8, we read:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Then a bit later, in vs. 10, we read:
If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
According to what we read in the New Testament, the Christian god demands perfect obedience and sinlessness. As Ephesians 5:27 puts it:
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
The church is likened to a sacrificial lamb (cf. Exodus 12:5), which must be completely free of all blemishes. Where would those blemishes be if not in the individual members themselves?

Proverbs 14:12 famously states:
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
So according to the impressions that many passages in the New Testament themselves give, perfect conformity to “true doctrine” is non-negotiable when it comes to salvation and following falsehood leads one to peril. But Lennox gives the impression that all the teams are playing by the same rules, when in fact it’s the rules themselves that are up for grabs when it comes to comparing the various denominations and choosing which one’s teachings will give the believer the confidence that he’s on the right spiritual track.

According to Matthew 12:25, Jesus supposedly said the following:
Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:
If Christianity as a whole is not analogous to a “house divided against itself,” what is?

Thus Lennox comes across as a two-bit apologist whose only goal is to put critics of Christianity at bay while deliberately turning a blind eye to the deeper implications of his own words within the context of Christianity’s own teachings and their impact on individual believers. In fact, lost in Lennox’s trivializing is the fact that, to borrow his unwitting metaphor, Christians of different stripes very often portray the issue of one’s eternal fate as a matter of whose team’s uniform you happen to be wearing when you go to your grave.

The eighth prompt is given as follows:
8) The Bible is immoral.
The article responds:
If you want to question the morality of the Bible, what basis does that morality have?
I can only take this question as a tacit admission that believers are expected to approach the bible without any moral presuppositions and, in the vacuum of such a void, accept unquestioningly assessments that the biblical narratives offer morally righteous teachings. But in that case, the believer would have no independent basis for judging the Christian god as a morally righteous being. Since the believer can have no understanding of what is moral outside of his god-belief, then his claim that the Christian god is moral or that the teachings of the bible are moral, are intellectually hollow.

To compound matters, one would be hard-pressed even to find a succinct explanation of what the concept ‘morality’ means anywhere in the bible’s many pages. The question above, however, is posed as though the one asking it assumes that critics of the bible could have no extra-biblical basis for their understanding of morality in the first place, but no argument for such an assumption is given. This characterization of the matter is commonly promulgated by Christian apologists, as if morality were only possible if their god were real. But this is simply not even close to being true (see for example here). The article continues:
There can be a serious contradiction within atheist criticisms.
Of course, that should not surprise us. Contrary to casual apologetic sloppiness that is all-too commonplace, the term ‘atheism’ does not denote any single worldview as such. The term ‘atheism’ is a negation - distinguishing those who do not religiously adhere to a god-belief from those who do. It is a legitimate concept given that religious adherence to one form of god-belief or another is so prevalent in modern cultures. That one identifies himself as an atheist in no way aligns him with any particular set of positively informed philosophical tenets; such self-identification only tells us what he does not believe or hold to be true, not what he does believe hold to be true. Atheists, then, are always going to be a mixed bag, so continuity of affirmed positions across the board among atheists generally is not to be reasonably expected.

But this is what’s so ironic: Atheists are criticized for affirming different and sometimes incompatible things. One group of atheists, for example, will espouse dialectical materialism, while another group will espouse logical positivism, while yet another espouses Objectivism. Such diversity is to be expected since the label ‘atheist’ does not group people by what they affirm, but by what they do not affirm. Any association beyond that point must be validated on a case by case basis rather than casually assumed for purposes of apologetic expedience on the part of religious defenders.

But when we examine what various Christians affirm, should we be similarly surprised when we find wide diversity of beliefs on various matters affirmed by different groups? It’s true, as we saw above, that many conflicts within Christianity have run deep throughout the ages, and often on no incidental details. Topics ranging from baptism, angels, the Sabbath, to heaven and hell, from the kind of body believers can expect to get upon being “resurrected” to fellowship with “unbelievers,” from evolution vs. creationism to faith healing, from “original sin” to the proper understanding of salvation, etc., etc., etc., have all festered in raging internal debates that never come to an end, sometimes to the point of violence in one form or another, many since Christianity’s very inception.

The problem here, however, is that apologists ignore the deep-running divisions and conflicts which continue to rage within Christendom while treating incompatible views endorsed by various atheistic philosophies as if the mere presence of such incompatibility could serve as an indictment against atheism as such.

Prof. Lennox and atheist Richard Dawkins have had some famous high-profile encounters. So it should not be a surprise when the article cites Dawkins:
Dawkins wrote: "In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."
The article responds, citing Prof. Lennox:
If this is true, then why does he question the morality of anything? "Dawkins says faith is evil," said Prof Lennox. "But at the same time he abolishes the categories of good and evil. That doesn't make sense."
Like so many philosophically defenseless thinkers out there, Dawkins is a Christian apologist’s dream, for he hands the apologist everything he wants. While the quote attributed to Dawkins by the article above does not deny “the categories of good and evil,” I wouldn’t be surprised if Dawkins did deny the meaning of the concepts of good and evil elsewhere. Dawkins does not seem to be operating on the basis of the philosophy of reason. But this is not Lennox’s criticism of Dawkins. Rather, he is accusing Dawkins of an internal contradiction, namely making use of a concept while elsewhere denying its validity. This is essentially a charge that Dawkins has committed the fallacy of the stolen concept, something neither Dawkins nor Lennox can consistently oppose philosophically.

I would caution anyone from consulting Dawkins on morality just as I would the bible. Morality is a code of values which guides an individual’s choices and actions; its purpose is to teach an individual, not to suffer and die, but to live and enjoy his life. As such, morality is a legitimate human need given his nature as a biological organism which (a) faces the fundamental alternative of life and death; (b) needs values in order to live; (c) must act in order to achieve those values which his life requires; and (d) has achieved the conceptual level of consciousness which is able to distinguish between that which is a value, that which is a non-value, and that which is a threat to his life. We will not learn these things about the nature of morality from the bible, and unfortunately, I don’t think we will learn them from Richard Dawkins either. To learn more about the rational understanding of morality, I refer readers to Ayn Rand’s “The Objective Ethics,” in her book The Virtue of Selfishness.

Now regardless of these points, notice how weak Lennox’s response to the titular criticism is. The criticism is that “the Bible is immoral.” Does Lennox make any progress in countering this? Does he vindicate the bible and show that its teachings are in fact moral? No, he does not. Does he even try to salvage any hope on behalf of Christianity’s claim that the bible’s teachings are moral? No, he really doesn’t. All his focus is away from whatever the bible teaches. He makes no effort to explain what Christianity means by morality or how the bible’s teachings consistently measure up to such an understanding. Lennox’s entire modus operandi is one of deflection. That should tell us something.

To be continued…

by Dawson Bethrick

1 comment:

95BSharpshooter said...

Evasion of such an massive extent is quite unbecoming in an adult.

Christianity seems to do nothing more than infantize billions of people.