Development in Apologetics—George Trumbull Ladd


One of the paradoxes of human existence is that, while there is nothing new under the sun, nothing stays the same. And so it is in the world of ideas. It is no less so in the realm of religious belief, even when the object of belief is eternal and changeless.

As long as Christian belief has been proclaimed it has had to adjust to the challenges unique to each period of proclamation. And wherever it has been propagated, it has needed to respond to the immediate conditions of its propagation. Changes in circumstance call for new methods of commending Christian belief.

In an article on “Modern Apologetics,” published in 1903, George Trumbull Ladd (1842-1921) explained the need this way:

“Now, that Christian apologists should alter their methods, and even many of their claims, in order the better to defend their religion amidst altered circumstances, is no new thing in the history of apologetics. On the contrary, changes in the points attacked and in the methods of attack call peremptorily for changes in the points where the defense is concentrated and in the methods of defense. The vitality of Christianity has always shown itself in its adaptability to meet https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/97/George_Trumbull_Ladd_cph.3b32185.jpg/150px-George_Trumbull_Ladd_cph.3b32185.jpgthe new requirements with a reconstructed apologetics. In the time before the political triumph of the church under Constantine, the history of Christian apologetics shows it to have been constantly engaged in a vigorous and almost life-and-death struggle with a series of determined and powerful hostile forces. But both the form of these forces and the form of repelling them have long since passed away and are never to return. To defend the Christian faith against the modern scientific, philosophical, and sociological objections by recurring to the arguments of the church fathers would be as unskilful and ineffectual as would be the use of the weapons of war belonging to the same centuries in a contest with the modern rifle and modern artillery. Mediaeval apologetics was, from the intellectual point of view, a comparatively tame affair—a dialectical contest over the comparative merits of the different religions, which, however, became realistic and bloody enough when it was waged in the political field against rival heathen, Jews, and Moslems. Even the apologetics which introduced the modern era, and which consisted in a defense of the older orthodoxy against the modifications attempted by the older deism and rationalism, is thoroughly unfitted for present use. Both the attack and the defense of a hundred years ago are now largely antiquated.”

– George Trumbull Ladd, “Modern Apologetics” (1903), 523-24

Ladd was trained at Western Reserve College and Andover Theological Seminary. He was pastor in Congregational churches in Ohio and Wisconsin. He later taught philosophy at Bowdoin College for a few years and philosophy and psychology at Yale University for several more years. He served as a kind of ambassador for the United States in Japan in the last decade of the 19th century. He wrote extensively in psychology, philosophy, and religion.

The complete text of Ladd’s essay may be found at this link. Today, July 1, is the anniversary of this publication.

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My First Published Dialogue—”Can and Would God Speak to Us?”


My most recent publication is the opening chapter in the new book In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of the Bible, edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder (B&H Academic, 2013).

The full title of my chapter is “Can and Would God Speak to Us? A Dialogue on Divine Speaking.” Writing in dialogue format was a new venture for me. I enjoyed listening in on what “Chad” and “Danielle” had to say in conversation with each other. (What they say about learning something new during the process of writing is true!) I was challenged by the format, but I hope to try my hand at it again sometime.

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I encourage readers interested in sophisticated responses to contemporary challenges to biblical authority to read this book. Each chapter stands on its own as an important contribution on a specific topic. There’s something here for everyone, with topics ranging from canonicity to supposed contradictions in the Bible, from biblical archaeology to biblical criticism, from issues of slavery and sexism in the Bible to issues of genocide in the Bible. There are discussions of the Bible and ancient pagan myths, the historical reliability of the two testaments, the quality of biblical manuscripts, the interpretation of Scripture and its role as a source for theology, and science and the Bible.

Henry Boynton Smith (1815-1876)


February 7

On this date in 1877, Henry Boynton Smith died in New York City, age 61. This theologian, who was born in Portland, Maine, studied at Bowdoin College and at Andover and Bangor theological seminaries. Later, he studied in Germany, getting to know Friedrich Tholuck and Hermann Ulrici at Halle, and August Neander and Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg at Berlin.

I have long had an interest in Tholuck (1799-1877) for his work in Christian apologetics as a German evangelical. Henry B. Smith lectured in apologetics at Union Theological Seminary during the academic years 1874-1875 and 1875-1876. His course of lectures was published in 1882 by A. C. Armstrong & Son.

Smith adopted a three-fold division of Christian apologetics:

  1. Fundamental Apologetics
  2. Historical Apologetics
  3. Philosophical Apologetics

His system is sophisticated and worthy of close study. He begins with the question whether the supernatural can be known (considering first general questions of epistemology) then moves on to “the proof of the Being of God” (p. 46).

Here is how he begins to address the question, “How can we know God?”

The very question implies some knowledge. Unless we had some conception of God we could and would nevermore ask, How can and do we know God? Unless man had some belief in God he would not ask, any more than an animal, Can you prove His being—can you demonstrate His existence?

The questions implies a need, a craving—seeks for an answer to a demand of our rational and moral being. This is the very least that can be said. There is a strong subjective belief—that is the starting-point; and the question is, Is there a corresponding objective reality? Are there sufficient grounds for full belief, binding on all rational and moral beings?

Hence the question is not at all about knowing some unknown thing, about proving the existence of a mere abstraction—as a theorem in geometry. It is as to the proving the existence of a being in whom, somehow, in some wise, we already believe. It is not going from the known to the unknown—but showing that there are valid and final reasons for a strong, universal, native, human belief.

—Smith, Apologetics: A Course of Lectures (1882), pp. 71-72

Later, Smith writes:

  1. As the starting-point show that man’s whole nature and man’s whole history prove the need to him of a God; that man by nature and reason is irresistibly prompted to seek for Deity, and cannot else be satisfied. This is not the proof of God’s being, but the basis of proof.
  2. That all the phenomena and facts of the universe (so far as known) demand the recognition of a God as their source and unity—a personal God, the necessary complement of the world.
  3. That man’s reason (a priori) demonstrates the existence of a real, infinite, absolute being.
  4. The combination of 2 and 3 gives is the result and proof.

In its ultimate philosophical principles the proof for the being of God consists of three arguments resting upon three ideas:

(a) The ontological argument, on the idea of being.

(b) The cosmological argument, on the idea of cause.

(c) The teleological argument, on the idea of design.

—Smith, Apologetics, p. 87

In chapter 4, Smith distinguishes between “the Supernatural” and “the Miraculous.” He develops the case for Christian miracles against pantheism and materialism, which both consider the impossibility of miracles to be an axiom. Not only are miracles possible, but on sufficient evidence, it is reasonable to believe that miracles have happened.

Smith says, “Besides having an adequate cause, miracles have also a sufficient end or object, and are never to be considered apart from, or dissociated from that” (p. 102).

Miracles are:

possible, if there is a God;

probable, if a positive revelation is needed; and

they have been [i.e., they have happened], if Christ and his apostles can be believed.

(p. 104)

Smith held that “Christian Apologetics is essentially Vindication. It seeks to vindicate, and in vindicating to establish, the value and authority of the Christian faith” (p. 118). His published lectures are a credit to his effort to do just that.

Note: It was also on this date, in 1664, that Gottfried Leibniz completed his master’s degree in philosophy.

 

Gottfried Leibniz

“If God, Why Evil?” Presentation Slides


Today I participated in the “Always Be Ready” conference in Downey, CA. The title of my presentation was “If God, Why Evil?”

You’re welcome to view the Keynote slides I used for this presentation. Just click on the following link:

Doug Geivett, “If God Why Evil” (2010.07.31)

Related post here.

Doug to Speak at the “Always Be Ready” Conference July 31


Doug will be speaking at the “Always Be Ready” conference at Calvary Chapel, Downey, CA—July 31, 2010—2:00-2:55 pm. Topic: “If God, Why Evil?”

For registration information and other details:

“Always Be Ready” Conference—Calvary Chapel Downey

This conference is sponsored by the Veritas Evangelical Seminary.

Update (1 August 2010):

Keynote slides for this presentation can be viewed here.

Feminist Sensibilities as an Issue for Christian Apologists


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote that Christians should “make good men wish that Christianity is true, and then show them that it is.” Both tasks are severely neglected by the Church.

It seems we’re surrounded by people who hope that Christianity is not true. The major media, at least, often express suspicion of Christianity. Sometimes, to be sure, the media go further and deride Christianity. But they seldom deride Christianity with arguments that its central truth claims are false. Rather, they deride its attitudes and practices.

Attitudes differ from beliefs (except in the technical philosophical sense that a belief is a “propositional attitude”). What, for example, do Christians believe about the status of women—in society, at the workplace, at home, in marriage? To be candid, Christians don’t agree in their beliefs about these matters. Read more of this post

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