Posts Tagged ‘Scholarship’

Why Google Research Is A Problem

December 17, 2014

Does having more access to information mean we’re more informed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Two times this week, I have seen an interesting event happen. In both cases, I have been discussing with an atheist on Facebook. In both cases, I have seen them make a claim that’s completely false. In both cases, I saw them Google for a resource to use. In both cases, the link they provided that they said backed their case in fact did not back their case. In fact, in both cases, they used the same web site and seeing as it’s a web site where I know the guy who runs it, I know the quality is excellent and my opponents didn’t realize what they had done.

In the first case, I was told that it was at the Council of Nicea that the Bible had been edited. The excellent site that was used to demonstrate this claim was www.Tertullian.org and the specific page was this one. This site is run by Roger Pearse who is a Christian and an excellent researcher so I knew something was wrong immediately. With this, it didn’t take too long. All I had to do was read the first paragraph. I will bold in the important parts.

There seem to be a number of legends about the First Council of Nicaea (325AD) in circulation on the internet, presented as fact.  Some people seem to think that the council, which was the first council of all the Bishops of the Christian Church, either invented the New Testament, or edited it to remove references to reincarnation (or whatever) or burned large numbers of heretical works, or whatever.  These are in error.  This page documents the problem and provides links to all the ancient source material in order to allow everyone to check the truth for themselves.

In the next case, it was someone trying to tell me a pagan deity like Mithras was born on December 25th. Even if Jesus was not born on this day, it is a false claim to say all these pagan deities were born on that same day. The page I was linked to was this one. Yet had the person even bothered to read, he would have seen that again, it wasn’t friendly to his claims.

Cumont stated that the birthday of Mithras was 25 December, on the basis that a solar feast took place on that date and Mithras would, of course, be included. The idea was only speculation, but has been widely taken up. Clauss repeats the claim. But Beck states that this is not the case. In fact he calls this assertion ‘that hoariest of “facts”‘. He continues: “In truth, the only evidence for it is the celebration of the birthday of Invictus on that date in the Calendar of Philocalus. ‘Invictus’ is of course Sol Invictus, Aurelian’s sun god. It does not follow that a different, earlier, and unofficial sun god, Sol Invictus Mithras, was necessarily or even probably, born on that day too.”

But later Clauss states; “the Mithraic Mysteries had no public ceremonies of its own. The festival of natalis Invicti [Birth of the Unconquerable (Sun)], held on 25 December, was a general festival of the Sun, and by no means specific to the Mysteries of Mithras.”

Steven Hijmans has discussed in detail the question of whether the general “natalis Invicti” festival was related to Christmas but does not give Mithras as a possible source.

Please note this. For the sake of argument, it could be Pearse is wrong in his claims. I’m quite confident he isn’t, but let’s suppose he is just for the sake of argument. What matters is that in both cases, the person had likely just typed something in on Google and just copied the first few links without bothering to even read what they said confident that what they put up had to prove their point.

And this is the problem.

There are too many people today who think just being able to Google is all they need to make an argument and if they can find a link that says something, then that establishes it.

News flash to some of you. Not everything on the internet is true.

You see, one of the problems of the internet is anyone whatsoever can set up a blog, web site, YouTube channel, write an Ebook, etc., and be seen as an authority. Now of course I’m not going to deny there is some excellent work out there by non-scholars. I would hope some of you reading this blog think that this is the case here. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have pseudo-research but just look impressive.

If you know how to use Google, it can be an excellent tool. If you don’t know how, it can give you the appearance of knowledge without the substance thereof.

If you want the best knowledge, you will need to read the books by leading authorities in the field you want to learn. These authorities also do not produce their material for free. Every now and then, you can find some resources that are free, such as the podcast that I host regularly.Yet despite that, there is no replacement whatsoever for reading the books that you need to read.

Imagine going to a doctor and as you describe your symptoms you see him on his computer. Now this isn’t always an unusual scene. Sometimes he’s entering in data on your case. Yet what would happen if you asked him what he was doing and he said “Oh. I’m googling in your symptoms to see what you have and what the best treatment would be?” I hope all of you would be going to find a new doctor.

In Japan, one of the delicacies you can get is Puffer Fish. The problem with the meai is that the fish contains a deadly poison so if you want to serve it, you have to cook it in just the right way so that it is no longer a threat. In fact, you have to be specially licensed in order to prepare this meal. How many would be willing to have the meal at a Japanese restaurant if you knew the cook was instead just using Google to learn how to do it?

Google can too often just allow a person to be lazy and look like they know something when they don’t. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for work. There is no shortcut on the path of knowledge. If you want to learn something, you will have to work at it. You can use Google as a tool, but do not expect it to do all the work for you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Google Generation

August 8, 2014

Is it possible to be a recipient of the information age and be uninformed? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

With Christmas coming up, I’m wanting to upgrade some of my technology, and so yesterday while the Mrs. was at a Pinterest party, I decided to go to an AT&T store after some grocery shopping to talk to someone there about upgrades. One thing I want upgraded is my Kindle. I’d like to be able to read books on audio much more easily with a Kindle and I’ve been told I could just consider an IPad and with that I could use a Kindle App and have access to a tool I can use for powerpoint.

The guy who was telling me about the products heard me go on and on about books and then saw the books I had with me, apologetic books in nature, which led to a discussion about certain issues and I was told that in the past people believed the Earth was flat.

I quickly pointed out that this is a myth. “On The Heavens” by Aristotle has the teaching that the Earth is a sphere and you would be hard-pressed to find one intelligent thinker after that including Aquinas and the church fathers who thought otherwise.

I was told that the intelligentsia believed that, but not the masses. The masses all thought you would fall off. I simply replied that I would need evidence to believe such a thing.

So what happens? Well we’re there looking at IPads so he suggests that we just look it up.

How does the argument go? Well one of the first things found is this:

TheWorldisFlat

Except it’s worse than that.

You see, my salesman didn’t even look at the book. In fact, he never got to the picture. All he saw was a link with the title of the book and how it was a history of the 21st century and said “See? Even up until our time that’s been believed.”

Amazing what you can learn about a book just by seeing a title. Not only can you learn about the book, but you can learn about what a whole group of people have believed. No research required.

Now in our next vast tour of internet research, what’s the next thing we come across? This:

shipfallsoffEarth

Is there any attempt to see who did this painting? Nope. Is there any attempt to see when it was done? Nope. For all we know, it could be after the myth was popularized that people used to believe that the Earth was flat, which I pointed out Washington Irving popularized that myth about why Columbus sailed West. (It’s worth pointing out as well that Ingersoll helped popularize it.)

By this mindset, the musical group Kansas must have included flat-Earthers in it. Take a look at this album cover:

Kansas_-_Point_of_Know_Return

Now let’s suppose something. Let’s suppose that I am wrong for the sake of argument. Even if I was, is it sufficient to look at a web link and a picture and do nothing further beyond that and decide that your opponent’s position is refuted? Not at all.

Yet this is exactly what we’re up against.

You see, we live in an age where people think they are authorities because they can use Google. I can’t help but think of what my friend Tim McGrew, professor of philosophy at Western Michigan, says about this:

“One of the most disastrous illusions of the internet age is that an amateur plus Google is equivalent to a scholar. A search engine offers information, more or less relevant according to the skill of the searcher. But it does not sift that information; it does not sort fact from fancy, wheat from chaff. It does not explain which facts are relevant and which are beside the point. It does not weigh the merits of competing arguments and tell the user where the balance of evidence lies. A bright amateur armed with the internet may at best be better informed than he would otherwise have been, and he may occasionally catch a real scholar in a factual error. But it will not turn him into a scholar himself. There is no such thing as effortless erudition.”

Google is a fantastic tool when used appropriately, but when used inappropriately, it can give the illusion of knowledge without research.

Yet this is what we see happen in our age. I am involved in debates often with Christ-mythers for instance who when presented with several works of scholarship just instead put up a Google link by a non-scholarly source and then march off triumphantly convinced they’ve defeated their enemy.

Of course, I am not telling you to avoid using Google. I am also not telling you that all sources must be scholarly, but I do think sources for arguments should interact with scholars and while Google can be a tool in your research, it should not be the whole thing.

The sad part is unfortunately, the side relying entirely on Google has fooled itself with an illusion that real research has been done, when it has not been done. This is also why those of us who argue MUST read and study that which disagrees with us. If not, we can lull ourselves into a sense that we are automatically right by virtue of our position and have nothing to learn from our opponents.

And yes, both sides are guilty of this. The Christian side can too often consist of people saying “We have the Inerrant Word of God! What need have we to study anything else?” Meanwhile, the atheist side consists of people who will say “Courtier’s reply!” and think they have made a substantial reply.

Recently on my show, I interviewed my father-in-law Mike Licona. We’re quite different intellectually. He was the one who struggled in school and worked and when he did, got C’s. Meanwhile, I was the student who went to school, did all the assignments, came home and played video games all day, and then got A’s and elected Most Studious in my class. Study was not a necessity for me in school.

Now Mike is an academic, though he says it’s not his natural bent. How many of you in apologetics want to be like Mike? Then he would tell you this too. Study, study, study. There is no shortcut on this path. You must do the work.

Now some of you could be saying “Well that’s him, but what about you? Do you have it easy as one inclined to academics?”

Nope. Not a bit. Despite our differences in school, in this field, I too have to study, study, study. Now could it be I might have some advantages? Sure. But those advantages themselves do not present results. Those results only come from sacrifice. There are many times I’d frankly like to do other things, but in order to be informed, I have to study. It is work, but to be informed, it is worth it.

Also, if you get to the point where you think you no longer need to read the other side, then you are not really studying. By all means reach a conclusion. I have concluded Christianity is true, but I still read what I disagree with. Perhaps someone will show me an argument I have not considered. I can be skeptical, and you can be too, but we must always be open.

In our age, Google cannot take the place of real learning and research. Google if used properly will be an excellent tool for learning, but when used improperly, it can convince someone that they are learned when they are not, and when they speak on an issue, those who know it better will be left shaking their heads wondering how such a person thinks their point is valid.

Be a researcher. Don’t rely on just Google.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Some Tips On Research

July 15, 2014

Is there a proper way to go sifting through claims and separate the wheat from the chaff? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

As Christians, we are to be people of the truth, and therefore we need to check as much as we can and find out if it is true or not. If we say something that is false on a major issue at one point or something that is easily disproven, then it damages our testimony when we proclaim Christ as the risen Lord.

Of course, this also applies to too many atheists who don’t bother to do proper research either. There can easily be confirmation bias going on on both sides. Christians can too often readily believe anything if it meshes with their view of reality, such as an interpretation of Scripture. Atheists can believe many claims just because they happen to go against Christianity despite being seen as jokes in scholarship of the day.

So let’s give some tips.

First off, when you’re doing internet research, be extremely careful. Anyone can set up a blog or a web site today and look authoritative.

“Well don’t you have a blog here? Shouldn’t I be suspicious of what you say?”

Please do.

Seriously. Please do.

If you don’t think I’m a trusted authority, by all means look up what I say. If I’m wrong about something, I want to know about it and if you make a persuasive enough case with good evidence and scholarship, then I will be able to change my mind.

The source is something that must always be considered. No. This is not the same as a genetic fallacy. The claim can be right or wrong regardless of the source, but the source tells you the degree of credibility you need to give it at the start.

Want an example? Sure. Unfortunately, this is a real one. A Muslim actually posted in a Muslim debate group I used to frequent that modern scholars knew the stories about there being ancient Greek civilization were mythical. I’m not talking about Atlantis or believing in Greek gods or anything like that. I’m talking about the civilization period. This lady posted a video to show the professors talking about it.

Source?

The Onion.

For those who don’t know, the Onion is a satire. The articles are entirely jokes not meant to be taken seriously. I’d like to say this only fools crazies on the internet. I’d like to, but I’d be wrong. Huffington Post lists several examples here.

There are several sources out there like that that are satirical. Be on the lookout for them. If you read on a web site something that seems bizarre, there is no harm of just doing a simple Google search to see if the site you are reading this on is satirical.

A place Christians can often make this mistake at is end-times hysteria.

Too many things have been reported to be the Mark of the Beast and every time that they’ve been shown to be false, another one just rises up. There is a new sensation going on constantly in many dispensational circles. If you’re one of those dispensationalists who is not jumping at everything called prophecy fulfillment, I have no problem with you. In fact, I’m quite pleased that one of the best criticisms of The Harbinger is actually by a dispensationalist.

Definitely shame on you if you buy into these people that are certain they can tell you when Jesus is coming back. They can’t. They won’t. Guess what it does to the cause of Christ when people sell all they have and travel across the country proclaiming the end because of what someone like Harold Camping said?

This gets us into moving past considering the source and then really looking at the claim. A claim can seem plausible and from a source that could be reliable, but it could also be false. This kind of event happens on Facebook constantly. Someone will put up a news story and then everyone will share it and talk about it except for that one problem.

The story isn’t true.

A famous occurrence of this happening is when an email was going around several years ago about NASA finding Joshua’s last day. NASA had to respond to calls from people wanting to know more about it and unfortunately being told that the claim wasn’t true.

In politics, this can happen often. I’ve had someone in the past who would regularly email me something about Obama that was a highly negative story that would be such a great exposing of who he really was.

Except for that same problem. It wasn’t true.

And keep this in mind. Politically, I am no supporter of Obama. I am so conservative in my politics I prefer to fly on planes that have two right wings. Obama politically to me is an opponent, but if I want to expose my opponent, I want it to be on true grounds, and not false grounds. We should not want those who we are in opposition to to be spoken of falsely.

This is also why when someone says “Dr. X says such and such” you should ask some questions.

Who is this person?

What is their doctorate in?

Do they teach at an accredited university?

Are they respected in the field by those who agree with them and those who disagree with them?

Is their doctorate in a relevant field?

If those questions are answered in a way that gives credibility to the person then you need to look at the claim more. Unfortunately, too many videos that present these claims do not include proper citation. For instance, I just got done watching a video by some Christ-mythers who would say “X said this.” Where? Who knows! Rarely was anything ever said.

Christ-mythers, by the way, are excellent examples of people who do not do research. The Christ-mythers will fail in the field of NT and history at the questions above as none of them will be respected in the field by people they disagree with.

Consider Richard Carrier for instance. Carrier is highly respected and admired among internet atheists. Take that crowd away and there’s nothing. Most people in Europe have never even heard of him. Compare that to someone like N.T. Wright who teaches at an accredited university and is recognized as a top-notch biblical scholar by even his opponents.

I am interested in seeing what’s going to happen in the future for all the internet atheists who have put all their eggs in the Carrier basket.

This brings us to the next point. See what the opposition has to say. Read the best scholarship that you can on the other side. A question I often ask internet atheists nowadays is “When was the last time you read a work of scholarship that disagreed with you?”

Let’s return to the Christ-myth theory as my favorite example. How many times do I meet internet atheists who say “We don’t even know that Jesus existed.” Yeah we do. Scholarship across the board has held he does for years and theories that he did not exist have been found to be extremely lacking.

The reply will often be that these are a bunch of Christers trying to save their faith. The answer is that this is simply false. A large segment of the Society of Biblical Literature is non-Christian for instance. Bart Ehrman is a member of the SBL as are others who would say they’re atheist, agnostic, or liberal. (Some could say they’re Christian, but only in the sense that they follow the ethics of Christ without believing in anything miraculous about him.)

Also, even Christian scholars have to have their work pass peer-review. It won’t necessarily mean that their reviewers agree with their conclusion, but it will mean that they’ve shown they’ve done their research and are able to defend their view.

When you read this opposition, try to read scholarly opposition as much as you can and read it when published by an academic publisher. Of course, not everything is like that, and I say that as the co-author of two ebooks. A claim being in a non-scholarly source does not make it false, but it does mean you should always be willing to check the source of the claim and make sure that the person is interacting with the best in scholarship on the issue.

For an example of interacting with the best scholarship on the issue, consider the new atheists. The new atheists regularly have a habit of NOT interacting with the best of their opposition. I believe I have demonstrated that in this post.

By and large also, I do prefer books to videos and blog posts and such. Don’t discount those entirely, as I am a blogger after all, but try to see them as stepping stones. That’s why on my podcast I try to bring the best in scholarship and hope that it will be a stepping stone getting you to want to go look at the works of the scholars that I interview.

This also applies across the board. Don’t think I don’t practice what I teach either. Of course, I will make mistakes, but I spend plenty of time reading and studying. You can follow me on Goodreads if you want to see what it is that I’m reading. There is no such thing as being knowledgeable in the field without doing the research. There is no shortcut to learning. There are many ways to learn, but all of them require work.

Do good research. I don’t care what position you have. Just research it. In fact, I would rather talk about theology with an informed atheist more than an uninformed Christian. My standards are the same on both ends. I respect people who do the research about what they argue and know the other side well. I don’t respect those who are dogmatic on their side without doing any background research.

Be a part of the former. Study.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Trouble With Internet Debates

May 27, 2014

What’s so problematic about having debates on the internet? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I love debate. Okay. I can’t deny that. A good argument can get me really excited. I love the back and forth exchange of ideas. (Well supposedly the back and forth exchange.) Yet there’s something also irksome about it. In some ways, it can be like receiving a new gift at Christmas. It’s fun and exciting for a few days, but after awhile, the excitement just wears off.

What’s the problem with internet debates? Well very rarely do people talk about ideas that they really study. Instead, they talk about ideas that they have opinions on. Now opinions are fine and we all have them, but some opinions are to be more authoritative than others. I can have an opinion on evolution and cosmology. Don’t take it seriously. Why? Because I have not done the necessary reading on the topic. I am not an authority.

A word of warning at this point to my apologist friends out there and to other Christians. Reading the apologists on a topic does not make you an authority. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to read the scholars on the topic. You want to know what your opponents are arguing even better than they know it.

Now before atheists start thinking they’re not guilty of the same thing, they are. If you want to make an argument against the existence of God, don’t read someone like Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is just fine when talking about evolution, but he is not trained in the arguments for God’s existence.

Don’t go thinking that people like Jerry Coyne (Who Peter Boghossian refers to profusely) are authorities on Christianity. They’re not. When I go to his blog and see people arguing that Jesus never even existed, I know this is not something to take seriously. (And yes, no one who says Jesus never existed should be considered authoritative in the field. There are more PH.D.s in science who hold to YEC, a view I do not hold to at all, than there are PH.D.s in ancient history who say Jesus never existed.)

The new atheist movement has done this to atheism today. If you want to be a well-informed atheist, do not read the new atheists. Believe it or not, just because you are an atheist, it does not mean that you’re automatically a clear thinker. Christian and atheists both have fools and geniuses on their side.

Another problem both sides have is incredulity has become an argument. For an atheist, yeah. I get it. It seems incredible to you that a miracle occurred. Frankly, I don’t have any problem with you thinking it is incredible. It really is. I understand the skepticism. The problem is skepticism is not an argument. It is a position that one holds. Today, you will need to do more than quote David Hume. Have you read the critiques of Hume? Have you considered a work such as Miracles by Craig Keener?

It also won’t work to say “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” Why should your position be the one that determines what claim is and isn’t extraordinary? The term is just way too subjective. How do you even recognize extraordinary evidence? Does it have some property like glowing in the dark?

extraordinaryevidence

And once again, to turn to the Christians, your incredulity does not count as an argument. Okay. Many of you are skeptical of evolution. I get that. Yeah. Now I have no firm opinion on the matter, but your incredulity does not count as an argument. It also will not work to say “The Bible says X.” Yeah. You accept the Bible as an authority, but your opponent doesn’t. Why should he care?

Now if you want to argue against evolution by all means be my guest. Just make sure you make the case scientific. If evolution is to fall, it will fall because it happens to be bad science. If it is bad science, then it can be refuted scientifically. Being incredulous will not count as an argument.

The problem with both of these positions is both sides can remain incredibly fundamentalist in nature. Many Christians will say automatically that they must be right because they agree with the Bible and the Word of God cannot be wrong. Now it could be true the Bible is the Word of God and cannot be wrong. (And I do hold to Inerrancy in fact) That is not to be assumed. If you’re debating a Christian who holds to that position, then fine. Use the Bible all you want to as an authority. It won’t work outside of that. It has no more effect on an opponent than my hearing what the Koran says from a Muslim has on me despite him insisting he’s telling me the words of the creator.

For the atheist, too often there is an engagement in what I call “atheistic presuppositionalism.” This is where you start off with the assumption of atheism, but you also start with the idea that because you are an atheist, you are reasonable and anyone who does not accept atheism is just irrational.

Now of course, if atheism is true, it is irrational to not accept it, but none of us are purely rational in all our thinking. We all make mistakes. You can be rational in many areas and irrational in others for any number of reasons. There could be a lack of study, reading the wrong resources, pride, or emotional or volitional barriers. Atheists often warn us about bias. They’re right. We should all be seeking to have our biases checked, but that includes atheists as well. The best way is to go out and read people who disagree with you and really interact with them.

But for too many atheists, the position is that they are rational and therefore any comment that they make is rational. Want to say Jesus never existed? That’s rational because you’re an atheist! Have an opinion on any topic you’ve never studied? It’s rational because you’re an atheist!

This also leads to too often a lack of serious engagement with religious ideas for atheists. For most, it is just a Google search and Google while a valuable tool for those who use it well, is an aid also to the laziness of our day and age. Why go out and read a scholar of a position? Just go find something in a Google search.

Want to claim Jesus is a copycat Messiah and there were several dying and rising deities? No problem! Just do a Google search! Sure! The source might not quote any scholars whatsoever and would not be taken seriously in the scholarly world, which it isn’t, but hey! It’s found on Google!

Now of course, a Christian should want to have an answer to that objection, but the question needs to be asked why it should be taken seriously as an objection in the first place? Is finding it on a Google search a good enough reason? I can find evidence on Google right now that the moon landing never took place! I can find evidence that the holocaust never happened! Now it’s faulty evidence to be sure (You can have evidence for false opinions), but it is evidence! Who would like to see something put up saying the moon landing never happened and expect to have to give an answer for that?

In fact, the reality is that 99.9% of us would say that it happened I predict. I have no doubt it happened. The reality is that most of us at the same time could not give an argument for it. Most of us do not know the physics and such of the matter to give an answer. That does not mean we’re irrational for holding it. We hold it on other grounds. Most of us could not give an argument for heliocentrism. Does that mean if someone put forward a web page claiming geocentrism that you would want me to take it seriously?

On the internet, anyone can put forward an opinion and it doesn’t have to be examined by critical minds. If you wanted to, you could start a blog right now for free and put out your opinion on whatever you want. That does not mean you’re an authority. It means you have an opinion.

Some of you might be thinking “What about your blog?” What about it? If you want to be skeptical, go ahead. I do not claim to be a scholar yet, but I do claim to rely on the works of leading scholars. If you think my opinion carries merit, feel free to share it. If not, then ignore it and just go and read the people who have actually reached the level of scholar.

Google is a tool for too many people who want instant information but are not wanting to do a real study. So many people don’t want today to do the real research required in learning a topic. Instead, they just want you to lay everything out front instead of doing the basic groundwork for what you wish to say. That’s another problem with internet discussions. If you’ve read the scholars, it’s very irritating to talk to people who haven’t and have them think they’re an authority.

And this gets us into another area as well. When people are contested, they can turn nasty. Now I am not one who says all satire and sarcasm is wrong. In fact, I think in many cases it’s necessary. Sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. Some arguers on the internet are just bullies who have not studied and want to present themselves as authority. They do not respond to sound argumentation.

Yet if all you have is just sarcasm and satire and you cannot back it with arguments, then you do not have an argument. Mocking Christians for being Christians is not an argument. Mocking atheists for being atheists is not an argument. If you’re one who does not have a problem with mockery, and to be fair, the Bible has no problem with it in many cases, then be sure that you also have the arguments to back it. Mockery, sarcasm, and satire are not to be your arguments. They are meant to be used, if you use them, as tools of argumentation but not the data itself.

Hopefully on both sides we can learn better argumentation. I have this strange dream that someday we’ll have debates where we only talk about topics that we’ve really seriously studied in debate. Unfortunately, as long as we think we are authorities because we have opinions, this will not happen. Yet I expect this most from the Christian community. I expect that we most of all will be fulfilling the life of the mind and engaging in areas where we have done our homework. It is no honor to our Lord to come to the debate not having done at least basic research. God is not obligated to give us knowledge because we have not done our part. That would in fact be encouraging laziness.

I also expect that too many people on both sides will hear this kind of advice on internet debates and ignore it entirely. This again is part of our modern problem as we consider ourselves exceptions to every rule out there.

If you want to honor Christ, be a student. Be a disciple. Be learning. Be reading both sides of the positions that you hold and love God with your mind. Sloppy thinking is no honor for the Christian to have.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

On Interacting With Street Epistemologists

March 26, 2014

What’s been my experience so far interacting with Street Epistemologists? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was asked by an apologetics group I belong to to describe what has been my experience thus far dealing with street epistemologists. You see, I was thrilled when I heard Peter Boghossian, author of “A Manual For Creating Atheists” (which I have reviewed here and interviewed Tom Gilson on here) had decided to come out with a show called the Reason Whisperer where he plans to have live conversations with people of “faith” and get them closer at least to deconversion.

I think this is a Godsend really.

I’ve long been waiting to see if there is something that will wake up the church from its intellectual slumbers and this I hope is it! We’ve had more than enough warnings and yet too many Christians are too caught up in themselves to realize they’re to do the Great Commission.

So I wanted to see what these street epistemologists were made of. Myself and some others with the same interest went to the Facebook page of Peter Boghossian. There we began asking questions and challenging what was said. It’s noteworthy that Boghossian himself never responded to us.

In fact, one post at least was a practical dare on Boghossian’s part when he linked to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman and said the apologists won’t post on this one. He sure was wrong! More of us posted than ever before!

I’d like to report on how that has kept going and that Boghossian is being answered every day, but alas, I cannot.

Why? Because he banned us all.

Keep in mind, this is the same one who sees a great virtue in “doxastic openness.”

What I did find from the interactions I had is that street epistemologists are woefully unequipped. They read only that which agrees with them. They will buy into any idea if it goes against Christianity. The Earth was believed to be flat? Sure! I’ll believe that! Jesus never existed? Sure! I’ll believe that! Not having the originals of an ancient document is a problem? Sure! I’ll believe that! I still think about the person who recommended I read “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross”, a book so bad that even the publisher apologized for it.

For street epistemologists also, science is the highest way of knowing anything. Now this is something understandable. If matter is all there is, then the best way to understand the world is to use a process that studies matter specifically. The problem is science can never determine that matter is all that there is any more than it could have determined that all swans were white. Science is an inductive process and while one can be certain of many of the claims, one cannot say they have 100% certainty.

Edward Feser has compared the use of science to a metal detector at the beach. Let’s suppose I was looking for a treasure map I’d heard had been buried at the beach. I go all over the local beach with a metal detector and say “Well I guess the map isn’t here. The detector never pointed it out.” Sure. I found several other objects that had some metal in them, but I never found the treasure map.

You would rightly think this is bizarre. After all, a map is made of paper and while a metal detector does a great job of picking up objects that are metal, it simply will not work with paper. This is not because a metal detector is a terrible product. It is because it is not the right tool for the job.

So it is that in order to determine if matter is all that there is or if there is a God, science is not the tool for the job. Now some might think science can give us some data that we can use, but it cannot be the final arbiter.

Yet for street epistemologists, it seems enough to just say “Science!” and that rules out everything else that’s religious. This would be news to many scientists who are devout Christians and see no disconnect between science and their worldview.

Yet here, the street epistemologists once again have an out. It is why I in fact call them atheistic presuppositionalists. They will simply say that these people are experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance. They are compartmentalizing themselves and not seeing that their worldviews contradict.

This would be news to someone like Alister McGrath, Francis Collins, or John Polkinghorne.

As I said, these only read what agrees with them. They will read Bart Ehrman on the Bible, but they will not read Metzger or Wallace in response. They will read Boghossian and follow him entirely, but they will not bother to read his critics. They will read about how people in the Middle Ages thought the Earth was flat, but they will not read James Hannam’s book on the matter, see Thomas Madden’s scholarship there, or even read the atheist Tim O’Neill who disagrees with them.

Street epistemologists will also go with extreme positions. They will tout on and on about how Jesus never existed and only say “Richard Carrier” or “Robert Price” in response. They will not acknowledge that the majority of scholarship, even scholarship that ideologically disagrees with Christianity, says it’s certain that Jesus existed. They do not realize that biblical scholarship is an open field where anyone of any worldview can join and writings go through peer-review.

Interestingly, these same people will go after Christians for not believing in evolution because, wait for it, there’s a consensus that this happened! The consensus of scientists is to be trusted. The consensus of scholars in the NT and ancient history is not to be trusted!

Also, if you do not hold to their view, well you are obviously emotional in nature in some way since you only believe because you want to believe and because of how you feel. It never occurs to some people that there could be intellectual reasons. In fact, it follows the pattern that if they don’t think the reasoning is intelligent, then it is just emotional.

It’s in fact a direct contrast to what is often said in many religious circles. “Well you’re just living in sin and are blinded to the truth.” Now I don’t doubt for some atheists, they don’t want to give up an immoral lifestyle. Also, I don’t doubt that for too many Christians, their only basis for being a Christian is how they feel and an emotional experience. Both of these groups have reached their conclusions for the wrong reasons.

Yet psychoanalyzing is seen as an argument to street epistemologists. If they can say you just believe for emotional reasons, then they can dismiss what you say. Note that it is dismissal. It is not a response.

I consider this a form I see of what I call atheistic hubris. Note please as well that this does not mean all atheists are this way. It just means that there’s a sizable portion of what I call “internet atheists” that are this way. The idea is that if someone is an atheist, then they are rational and intelligent. Therefore, all their thinking is rational and intelligent and all their conclusions are rational and intelligent.

The reality is we must all be constantly watching ourselves and one of the best ways to do this is to read our critics. Our critics will show us our blind spots and if we are wrong, we are to change our minds accordingly with the evidence.

An excellent example of something Boghossian and others constantly get wrong is faith. Boghossian says it is believing without evidence or pretending to know something that you do not know. Now in a modern vocabulary, I don’t doubt this. Too many Christians use faith this way and treat this kind of faith as if it is a virtue. It isn’t.

The question is, when the Bible uses the word faith, does it mean this? The answer is no.

In all of the writings I’ve read by the new atheists speaking this way about faith, not one of them has ever consulted a Greek or NT Lexicon in order to make their case. They have just said that this is what the word means. Oh they’ll sometimes quote Hebrews 11:1, but a text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext. I have also given my own exegesis of what the passage means here.

Also, I do have another great source on what faith is.

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.”

As it stands, the most I get told to this is that it is an appeal to authority, which indicates that street epistemologists don’t even understand the appeal to authority. Strange for people who claim to champion logic.

Sadly, they’re just following in the footsteps of Boghossian himself. Boghossian’s techniques will not work for any Christian who is moderately prepared to defend his worldview. It’s a shame that he who teaches so much about doxastic openness is so often incapable of doing what he teaches.

I conclude that if this is what we can expect from street epistemologists, then we really have nothing to be concerned about with them. Street epistemologists are just as unthinkingly repeating what their pastor, in this case Boghossian, says to them, as the fundamentalist Christians that they condemn. They are really two sides of the same coin.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

We Don’t Need No Higher Learning

September 12, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve been looking at inerrancy and talking about the research done into a text which raises a question that often comes when I’ve been discussing this on the blogosphere. Do we really need all these scholars to understand the Bible? Do we need higher learning?

Yes.

We shall continue next time….

No no no. Of course I’m not going to leave it at that. The objection is that isn’t it possible for simple and ordinary people to understand the gospel and be saved by reading the Bible?

Well, yeah. I have no problem, but that’s also like saying you can at least understand the plot of Romeo and Juliet by reading the play. You can, but in order to fully appreciate the work of the Bard, you will need to be trained in the literature of the time.

But can’t we all just pick up our Bibles and let the Holy Spirit teach us?

There are a number of attitudes I think that are behind this kind of question a lot of times when one is confronted with the idea of higher learning. The first is pride. The idea is that one is capable enough to understand the Bible without the guidance of others. Charles Spurgeon once even warned his students to not be so arrogant as to think they are the only ones the Holy Spirit has ever spoken to.

The second attitude is laziness. We don’t want to really work at studying something. Even as an apologist, this is something I still can struggle with. There are times that book being read can seem so boring and that other thing I’m wanting to do is more enjoyable. Of course, there are times one does need to take a break from the reading in order to think about matters or to just play. However, to work at times for all of us takes effort.

It is amazing that we would condemn a child when the child instead of wanting to work out the answers to the math questions chooses to look in the back of the book. We do not approve of the student who when needing to do research looks up Wikipedia or goes to Yahoo Answers or some other format like that.

Yet somehow, when we come to Bible Study, this is suddenly a virtue.

But it’s the Word of God!

And?

Because it’s of God, it should be easy?

Seriously. When has that ever been the case?

I would think it would be just the opposite. God is not the easiest topic to understand. There is a whole subject of theology and it is known as the queen of the sciences. Paul in a passage like Romans 11:33-36 writes out in praise the wonder of God and how he is beyond understanding.

But hey, it’s his Word, so it should be simple.

No.

Job compared wisdom to a mine where choice metals are dug for. If you want wisdom, you have to work for it. If you are a disciple of Christ, there is some activity to be required on your part. You are not just to be someone passive. You are to be seeking the truth as much as you are receiving it.

But we’ve got the Holy Spirit!

Yes. You do have the Holy Spirit and do you think He caters to laziness? The Bible celebrates the value of hard work. Are we to think that it celebrates that in all areas, except where it comes to the study of God Himself and His Scripture. In that case, hard work is to be avoided. Just be passive.

It’s amazing that these same people want to teach us that we don’t need teaching.

If you really believed you don’t need to be taught, don’t go to church. There’s no need to hear what the preacher has to say. There’s no need to read any books on the Bible either. You can get that on your own. No need to study Greek or Hebrew. If God wants you to know something, he’ll make sure he transcends the language gap.

Just sit back, do nothing, and let God beam all the knowledge into your head.

Of course, you’ll also have to deal with your neighbor across the street who has the Holy Spirit as well but is obviously living in sin or something since he disagrees with you.

It is a shame that we have reached a point in the life of the church where higher learning is discouraged and we think God should spoon-feed us everything.

“Well I guess everyone has to be a scholar!”

No. Not at all.

But everyone should be thankful for the scholarly community. If you want to grow in the knowledge of God, you’ll have to do your part. Read good books. These are books that will challenge you. Read also books that you disagree with. There are people who have the Holy Spirit just like you and think you’re wrong. See why they do.

If you want to, by all means go to a Bible College or Seminary. Even if you don’t want to enroll in classes, many schools have programs where you can audit a course. You can just sit in on the courses and hear what the professor has to say. If you can’t do that route, and you have a portable device like an IPhone or IPod, go to ITunes and find ITunes U and download podcasts from Seminaries. These are free. While you’re driving, put in your headphones and listen. When you walk the dog or take out the garbage, listen. You can also find a wealth of material at various websites. For apologetics, I highly recommend the apologetics315 blogspot.

Also, argue. Find people you disagree with and argue with them. There are places online this can be done, but mine that I do a lot at is TheologyWeb.com, where I debate under the name of ApologiaPhoenix. I also debate on Facebook under my real name, Nick Peters.

Get a blog of your own also. The blog is the personal way to reach the world today. It is your message board to everyone else to share what you’re thinking and what you’re learning and let other people come and comment on what it is that you’re saying. The discussion of great ideas will foster good thinking in you.

It will take work and you will always be learning. You will never reach a point where you cease study, but that’s what also makes it fun. There’s always something new. As it stands right now, I have a number of reading projects lined up.

If you want to be a scholar, excellent. However, while you do not have to be one to understand the Bible, you should readily avail yourself of their works. They are there for your building up and edification.

We shall continue next time.