Posts Tagged ‘Jeffrey Burton Russell’

Book Plunge: Exposing Myths about Christianity

September 8, 2014

What do I think of Jeffrey Burton Russell’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Russell’s book is a look at 145 claims about Christianity. Something that will strike the reader early on is that while some of these are indeed myths, not all of them are. In fact, I would think a better title might have been “Exploring questions about Christianity.” So for instance, let’s suppose we take one like “Christianity is boring.” Sure. That can be argued to be false. It might have been better to instead have it be “Is Christianity boring?” Now let’s move to something like question 99. “Christians believe in Hell.” This isn’t a myth. Most Christians do in fact believe in Hell. Having it be “Do Christians believe in Hell?” would make this far better. While the majority of chapters are “myths”, some are not and to cover all of them, it would be better seen as saying this book is meant to explore questions about Christianity.

This one can be a hit and miss book. There is always a problem when people too often try to cover a wide wide range of topics. Inevitably, some will be treated less well than others will. The ones that are strongest will be the ones that are within the subject matter of the writer. Russell is a historian so lo and behold, he does excellent on history. When it gets to issues that could have different opinions are can be controversial, such as social ethics issues like compromise, Russell often says that Christians have different viewpoints on this matter. 

It certainly is true that Christians can, but most Christians reading something like this will hope for a more conservative approach I think. To go for an in-between ground area can be a turn off for the reader. I would have in fact preferred a book that would have been all about historical concerns about Christianity rather than a book that did excellent on some and on others, it just didn’t do too well.

Of course, if we go this route, I think it would be great to see a combined effort. Imagine if someone like Russell had taken the historical questions, someone like Plantinga had taken philosophical questions, and someone like Francis Collins had taken scientific questions. Joint-effort among Christians in this area would go a long way towards making an excellent defense for Christianity. After all, if an expert sees a major flaw in one area that is outside the expertise of the author, they are likely to doubt the author where he does go into his expertise.

The bonus however with a grab bag is that you can get something that you can think about in many cases. The discerning reader will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and get the information that he needs out of the book. Of course, those who don’t are those who engage in all-or-nothing thinking already and can hardly be convinced about anything that does’t already agree with them, be they Christian or atheist.

In the end, this one is a difficult one to judge as a whole. Some readers might want to pick it up and go through and look on a few central questions and get ideas. For those who haven’t read much in apologetics, it could introduce them to questions that they do want to study fuller. 

In Christ,

Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Inventing The Flat Earth

August 20, 2014

What do I think of Jeffrey Russell’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

inventingtheflatearth

Recently, I had a conversation at a store with a salesman who was telling me that people in the past believed the Earth was flat, which I raised disagreement with. Online, one can hear this as a common objection. Often it is treated as an axiom and with the idea that the church was teaching otherwise. Consider this quote from Ingersoll in his essay Individuality

 

It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions,—some one who had the grandeur to say his say. I believe it was Magellan who said, “The church says the earth is flat; but I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more confidence even in a shadow than in the church.” On the prow of his ship were disobedience, defiance, scorn, and success.

 

A flat-earther is used to refer to someone today who is a fool and is going against the progress of science. It’s certainly easy to write off people as believing this. I know in Elementary school and beyond I was taught that Columbus sailed around to demonstrate that the Earth was round and not flat. (Which even if that had been the case, considering he didn’t circumnavigate the globe, he did not prove that anyway. 

If only I had know about Russell’s book back then.

Russell’s book is incredibly short. You can easily read it in a couple of hours like I did. In doing so, you will have invested those hours well. Russell points out that after the time of Christ, there were only two people who really brought out the idea that the Earth was flat. How many followers did they get on that count? None. They were certainly the minority. Alas, these two are thought to be representative of the time as a whole, ignoring all the other evidence that indicates people knew it was round.

Now of course, it could be that this did not extend to the masses, but frankly, we have no real way of knowing that. I would wager that for most people who were working hard to put food on the table and care for their families, they did not really think about the shape of the Earth. In fact, if they had, well you just go and ask the local priest and the local priest will tell you what the fathers of the church have said and you’ll hear that it’s round.

Russell also shows how this fed into a false idea of a warfare between science and religion, started mainly by people like John Draper and Andrew Dickson White. In many cases, this because a round of a group of people quoting each other as their own authorities and thereby seeking to establish their case as if it was heavily documented. (Read new atheist literature today and not much has changed.)

While Russell’s thesis is certainly correct and he goes into great detail to show a meeting Columbus had with officials never brought up the shape of the Earth and while his work is filled with scholarly notes, I would like to see future editions contain quotes within the text itself. What would most complete this book is to have a series of quotations from people in this time period on how the Earth was indeed spherical, such as Thomas Aquinas’s in his Summa Theologica in the very first question.

Still, this is a valuable book to read on the controversy. I wish I’d had it in the past instead of just buying into what my teachers taught me.

In Christ,

Nick Peters