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.

Simon Greenleaf on the Rules of Evidence and the Christian Religion


Simon Greenleaf died on this date, October 6, in 1853. He was an American jurist who wrote an influential three-volume Treatise on the Law of Evidence.

Greenleaf believed that lawyers have a responsibility to evaluate the evidences of the Christian religion using the standards of evidence demanded in their professional lives. Accordingly, Greenleaf detailed the results of his own investigation in an 1846 work titled An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists, by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice. With an Account of the Trial of Jesus.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ee/SimonGreenleaf.jpg/200px-SimonGreenleaf.jpgFirst, he set forth the following basic principles for governing any responsible investigation:

In examining the evidences of the Christian religion, it is essential to the discovery of truth that we bring to the investigation a mind freed, as far as possible, from existing prejudice and open to conviction. There should be a readiness, on our part, to investigate with candor, to follow the truth wherever it may lead us, and to submit, without reserve or objection, to all the teachings of this religion, if it be found to be of divine origin. (p. 21)

Here, in brief, is the conclusion Greenleaf reached regarding the testimony of the gospel writers concerning the resurrection of Jesus:

The great truths which the apostles declared, were, that Christ had risen from the dead, and that only through repentance from sin, and faith in him, could men hope for salvation. This doctrine they asserted with one voice everywhere, not only under the greatest discouragements, but in the face of the most appalling terrors that can be presented to the mind of man. Their master had recently perished as a malefactor, by the sentence of a public tribunal. His religion sought to overthrow the religions of the whole world. The laws of every country were against the teachings of his disciples. The interests and passion of all the rulers and great men in the world were against them. The fashion of the world was against them. Propagating this new faith, even in the most inoffensive and peaceful manner, they could expect nothing but contempt, opposition, revilings, bitter persecutions, stripes, imprisonments, torments and cruel deaths. Yet this faith they zealously did propagate; and all these miseries they endured undismayed, nay, rejoicing. As one after another was put to a miserable death, the survivors only prosecuted their work with increased vigor and resolution. . . . They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted; and these motives were pressed upon their attention with the most melancholy and terrific frequency. It was therefore impossible that they could have persisted in affirming the truths they have narrated, had not Jesus actually risen from the dead, and had they not known this fact as certain as they knew any other fact. (p. 53; italics added)

Suppose it were possible that Jesus’ disciples could have persisted in their public claims concerning Jesus and his resurrection even if Jesus had not risen. What seems most unlikely is that they would have persisted in this if they did not believe with grave conviction that Jesus had indeed risen. And this fact of their belief surely demands some plausible explanation, given their readiness to endure such persecution.

Greenleaf’s book still makes for stimulating reading. Its arguments deserve the attention of sincere inquirers today.

An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists is in the public domain. It can be read online here.

St. Ephraem—Syrian Apologist of the Fourth Century?


Students of the life and work of Ephraem the Syriac agree that he died on this date in 373 A.D. He wrote hymns, poems, sermons, and biblical commentary. His style and the tenor of his theology was a blend of the mystical and the intellectually staid.

In Theandros, the online journal of Orthodox Christian theology and philosophy, Mary C. Sheridan recounts his huge significance for the Syriac church. Her essay is interesting both for its insight into the life and work of Ephraem and for its discussion of the historical context of his activity.

In my series of posts on Christianity and its tradition of apologetics (see links below), I’ve introduced lesser-known figures and highlighted their contributions. I’m pleased to add this brief post about St. Ephraem (ca. 306-373). In his case, we find a fascinating reflection on apologetic themes in ancient poetry. I don’t know much about his work. But Mary Sheridan includes in her article a sample of his poetry where he acknowledges the value of nature as a source of revelation and places it in relation to Scripture as revelation. The medium of poetry may here be specially valuable for showing how natural theology draws men and women into contact with special revelation.

Ephraem considered both nature and Scripture the “twin sources of revelation.”

Once Nature and Scripture had cleaned the land
–they sowed in it new commandments
in the land of the heart, so that it might bear fruit,
praise for the Lord of Nature
glory for the Lord of Scripture.

He called Nature, the Old Testament, and the New Testament three lyres used in singing the Word of God. He says:

The Word of the Most High came down
      and clothed himself in
a weak body with two hands.
He took up and balanced two lyres,
one in his right hand and one in his left.
A third he put in front of him,
to be a witness for the other two;
for it was the middle lyre corroborating
that their Lord was singing to their accompaniment.

I encourage you to visit Sheridan’s page for more about St. Ephraem.

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Conrad Emil Lindberg—On God and Revelation


On this date in 1852, Lutheran theologian Conrad Emil Lindberg was born at Jönköping, Sweden. In 1871, Lindberg (1852-1930) moved to the United States to attend Augustana College and Theological Seminary. In due course, he was ordained and appointed to ministry in American churches serving Swedish immigrants. Later he returned to Augustana College where he was professor of theology. At Augustana, Lindberg taught systematic theology, hermeneutics, apologetics, dogmatics, ethics, liturgics, and church polity. Lindberg’s Christian Dogmatics (published first in 1898 in Swedish, and in English in 1922) includes material of interest to the Christian apologist.

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Concerning the Existence of God

Inasmuch as it cannot be proved that man and the world are not eternal, they must have had a beginning and in such case necessarily a cause. The concept of causality has therefore great weight in proving God’s existence. . . . In accordance with the concept of causality as a proof of God’s existence we consider God as a cause by reason of the fact that we know ourselves as causes. We know ourselves as causes because we are conscious of our will. To will is to cause. (19)

The Value of Theistic Arguments

Generally speaking, a Christian needs no such proofs, but in the hour of doubt and spiritual assault they become of great value and help. (20)

Arguments Without Force

In presenting arguments to prove the existence of God the following methods must be rejected: 1) When men essay to prove God’s existence as they would that of a material object; 2) when proofs are asserted to be based on direct or intuitive experience; 3) argumentum a tuto, which implies that it is doubtful whether or not God exists, but that it is safer to assume His existence and does no harm, while it may be dangerous to deny His existence, if He does exist; 4) argumentum ab utili, which sets forth the great benefit of faith in a personal God.

The Ethico-Theological Proof for God’s Existence It is not Lindberg’s aim to advance arguments for God’s existence, but only to present brief statements of the basic thrust of each of the main “ordinary” arguments. Here is his statement of the ethico-theological proof;

The will of man cannot be ethically determined by any human will, nor in the last instance can it be determined by impersonal nature. The human will points to a personal God by whom it is materially determined so that the formal freedom receives its proper content. This proof has two forms or names: 1) Argumentum ad conscientia recti or the proof of conscience, which implies that conscience is aware of the moral law and that man perceives an inner voice which convinces him of the existence of a higher being. 2) Argumentum morale or the moral proof by which man, conscious of the union of virtue and blessedness, draws the conclusion that a higher being must exist who shall reward the virtuous and punish the unrighteous. (24)

Lindberg attributes arguments of this general form to Cicero and Seneca, Abelard and Raimund of Sabunde, and Immanuel Kant. On General and Supernatural Revelation Lindberg asserts that “if a God exists, He must reveal Himself in some way” (28). There are two main modalities of divine revelation, the “general,” or revelatio generalis, and the “supernatural,” or revelatio speciales.

Revelatio generalis . . . is that natural revelation of God through which He reveals Himself in the conscience of man, in the kingdom of nature, and in history. (28) Revelatio speciales . . . is that external act of God by which He reveals Himself to man through the Logos, the personal Word, and through the Holy Scriptures, so that all men may receive saving knowledge of Him. (30)

Lindberg’s discussion of supernatural, or special, revelation is divided into four sections: (1) the possibility of revelation, (2) the necessity of revelation, (3) the reality of revelation, and (4) the relation between reason and revelation (pp. 31-34). The conditions for the possibility of revelation are set forth. Objections come from deists and pantheists. Deists interject that for God to reveal himself by some external means would disturb the natural order of things determined by the Creator. In addition, it would reflect negatively on the supposed power and intelligence of God to create a universe that reflects his genius. Lindberg answers that:

All nature is permeated by spiritual power and God is ever active in sustaining the universe in never-ceasing creational activity. (31)

The Necessity of Special Divine Revelation Lindberg’s two paragraphs on the necessity of revelation are especially good:

The necessity of a special revelation was recognized even by the heathens, such as Plato. The history of religion clearly demonstrates this necessity. The founder of every religion has claimed a special revelation. The history of philosophy itself reveals the need of a special revelation when we consider the contradictions and conflicts that have arisen on all the most important subjects. The necessity of a special revelation is grounded in the need of salvation, the occasion for it being the Fall into sin. This revelation was accidental on the ground of sin as a presupposition, but it was not accidental in the sense that it could have been inhibited after sin had entered the world. Revelation was necessary from the divine viewpoint in order that the design and purpose of creation and salvation might be realized. Revelation was necessary for man because he was powerless to save himself from the power and condemnation of sin. (32)

I concur with this general statement of the need for revelation. A complete Apologetic should include a description of the need for revelation. If revelation is possible, as it seems easy to establish, then we should first consider whether to expect any further special revelation in the interest of determining whether God has in fact produced a revelation of himself that goes beyond what is learned from general revelation. There is strong independent support for the claim that God has produced a revelation, and for the specifically Christian revelation claim. But remembering (a) what is revealed about God by natural means, (b) the probability this lends to the supposition that God both could and would produce a revelation, and (c) the independent human need for revelation, does two things for us when we ask whether God has produced further special revelation. First, we are made to expect additional revelation from God; second, we are provided some means of identifying appropriate criteria for (a) recognizing what should be included as content of any revelation claim, and (b) confirming the authenticity of a particular revelation claim by means of a suitable miracle. With these elements in place and logically-ordered, presentation of evidence for the Christian revelation claim should enjoy a more positive reception.

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The Weight of Glory—C. S. Lewis Speaks to “Ordinary” People


Peter Kreeft has called it C. S. Lewis’s “golden sermon.” Walter Hooper places it first in an otherwise chronologically-ordered series of addresses by C. S. Lewis, saying that “The Weight of Glory” is “so magnificent that not only do I dare to consider it worthy of a place with some of the Church Fathers, but I fear I should be hanged by Lewis’s admirers if it were not given primacy of place.” This is high praise. And the sermon rises to the high expectations created by such praise.Book Cover-CSLewis-Weight of Glory The sermon was preached June 8, 1941 and published a few months later in the 43rd volume of the journal Theology. Because today’s date is June 8, it’s fitting to recall some cherished lines from this oration that centers on the Christian conception of love and its relation to heaven’s future rewards:

. . . if we consider the unblushing nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. . . . We are far too easily pleased.

Lewis means that we settle for the satisfaction of desires that seem grand to us from the limited perspective of our current lives. Heaven’s rewards outstrip whatever else we could possibly imagine. Some criticize the Christian religion for its mercenary appeal to heavenly rewards as an incentive to Christian conversion and Christian living. But Lewis sorts out this confusion with a comparison to do with marriage. Some men marry for money; others for love. In the first instance, the act is unquestionably mercenary. Not so when a “real lover” enters into marriage. Some rewards are proper to the acts that bring them to fruition. Acting for the sake of our heavenly reward is like this. It is, in fact, the paradigm case of this. There is also this difference. When the saints’ reward is received, it will not be viewed as the effect of a bribe. It will, rather, be experienced “as the very consummation of their discipleship.” In the meantime, when the reward is an expected rather than a lived experience, disciples cannot yet know the fulfillment of the desire natural to it. We can only approximate what it is like to live in possession of our future reward if we obey the revealed will of our Lord. This, I believe, is what the New Testament means by “the obedience of faith.” The faith is rooted in a promise, already the present experience of saints past, and the obedience is a consequence of that faith, an act we perform in the here and now.

. . . longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.

Lewis can write with uncanny clarity when he wants to. And he can write with mystifying creativity when it best serves his purpose.

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object.

Does Lewis mean that our highest finite aspirations—even when these are absurd, shortsighted, or inimical to the fear of God—are signs of a deeper desire we deny or believe does not exist, namely, a desire for God? In this context we come to a wonderfully disturbing paragraph:

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that settled the matter.

What a description of our common experience. Lewis draws out, through his close attention to the facts of our inner life, what we scarcely know to be there. When it is described with such care and accuracy, we finally recognize it. It is a kind of discovery of our true self. What do we do with this new self-awareness? Action of some kind must be proper to this realization. But what action, exactly? And how do we know that we’re not fooling ourselves when we think this very real desire latches onto what really will satisfy? Aren’t we accustomed to the disappointment of our longings? Why should it be any different with this yearning that defines our very selves? Lewis argues from the reality of this desire to the reality of the thing desired. It is a specimen of apologetics that does not feel like an argument. It is, in other words, the best sort of apologetic there is. Some paragraphs further into his message, Lewis contemplates the “idea of glory.”

Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means fame, or it means luminosity.

How simple is that? And yet, how true? Fame. A “competitive passion” among those who desire to be better known than other people. Lewis does not say that they desire to be better than other people. No, they want to be better known. This is a kind of glory. This is wickedness. What about luminosity? It is ridiculous. “Who wishes to become a kind of living light bulb?” Lewis’s exploration of the Christian ideal of glory brings together a conception of fame and the absence of vanity. For the details, you must read the sermon for yourself. But here is a morsel to whet your appetite:

Perhaps it seems rather crude to describe glory as the fact of being ‘noticed’ by God. But this is almost the language of the New Testament. St. Paul promises to those who love God not, as we should expect, that they will know God, but that they will be known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3).

To quote one of my seminary profs, Howard Hendricks, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” Toward the end of his sermon, Lewis circles back round to the idea of reward and the kind of reward the disciple of Jesus can look forward to.

Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. . . . Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.

Today, the 8th of July 2015, is indeed a Monday! But the seeming dreariness of the weekly recycling of things we do and crave and pursue is overcome with hope. And what seems so routine and ordinary is ignited with purpose.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

We do not construct a world of “everlasting splendors” by thinking positive thoughts. It is there before us, ready to behold, if we have eyes to see.

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Great Dates in the Apologetics Calendar—June 8


June 8 is unusual for the many dates bearing some relation to Christian apologetics.

1686 – Humphrey Prideaux graduated with D.D. from Christ Church, Oxford (installed as Dean of Norwich on this date in 1702)

1809 – Death of Thomas Paine, antagonist against Christianity and author of The Age of Reason (published in three installments: 1794, 1795, 1807)

1810 – Death of William Finch, whose 1797 Bampton lectureship was titled “The Objections of Infidel Historians and other writers against Christianity” (eight sermons)

1889 – Death of Christian metaphysical poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, famous for “Pied Beauty” (written in 1877, and published in 1918) and “God’s Grandeur” (also composed in 1877); also the sonnet “Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I conted”

1894 – Birth of Wilbur M. Smith, author of the thick volume of Christian evidences called Therefore Stand

1903 – Birth of G. C. Berkouwer, theologian in the Dutch Reformed tradition, whose many books include The Providence of God (1952) and General Revelation (1955)

1941 – C. S. Lewis preached his sermon “The Weight of Glory”

1954 – Death of Kenneth Escott Kirk, bishop of Oxford who wrote in defense of Christian moral philosophy

2007 – Death of Richard Rorty, postmodernist critic of religion

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William Warburton’s 18th-Century Defense of Christianity


The 18th century produced a great many thinkers who made lasting contributions to the study of Christianity’s credentials. On the skeptical side, David Hume has been most significant. William Paley and Bishop Butler have had the greatest enduring influence on behalf of Christianity. Lesser lights from today’s vantage point were leading figures in their time. Among them, William Warburton, who died June 7, 1779—236 years ago today. Warburton’s greatest work was the nine-volume treatise with the odd title The Divine Legation of Moses. The full title was The Divine Legation of Moses, demonstrated on the principles of a Religious Deist. Deist contemporaries, who claimed they believed the doctrine of immortality, argued against the divine authorship of the “Law of Moses.” They reasoned that if the Law of Moses was divine, it would propound the doctrine of an afterlife, which it does not.

  1. Any divinely authored text will affirm a doctrine of immortality.
  2. The Law of Moses does not affirm a doctrine of immortality.
  3. Therefore, the Law of Moses is not a divinely authored text.

The argument has an odd appearance. It isn’t immediately obvious why deist writers, or anyone else for that matter, would think that a divinely inspired text must teach a doctrine of immortality. But, of course, the books of Moses were all there was of the Bible for generations of God’s people. As the source of their knowledge of God’s ways and plans for humanity, it may seem odd, if it is of divine origin, that nothing is ever said for immortality of the self in that source. Surely, if men and women are immortal, and this is by God’s design, then God’s revelation to humanity would indicate that this is so. Men and women are immortal, said these deists, but the Law of Moses says nothing about this. The implication is that the Law of Moses could not have been written under God’s own guidance.

William Warburton

William Warburton (1698-1779)

You don’t come across an argument of this sort much these days. And you don’t encounter the sort of argument Warburton made in direct response. Warburton turned the deistic argument on its head, arguing that silence on the question of immortality was actually evidence of divine authorship. The Law of Mose was the “Divine Legation,” and the absence of any direct reference to life after death is evidence of this. If the deist argument seems at all strange, Warburton’s reply seems more so. But the strategy intrigues. Ancient religions contemporaneous with the Jewish religion were unanimous in affirming an afterlife. These were, all of them, manufactured religions. The Jewish religion differed in this one striking respect: no doctrine of an afterlife. This anomaly in the history and sociology of religious belief invites explanation. For Warburton, the best explanation is that the Jewish religious system, rooted in the Pentateuch, was of divine origin. Warburton’s argument was sufficiently compelling that many critics took pains to respond. But this isn’t only because of the core argument. Into the Divine Legation, Warburton squeezed a host of other evidences for Christianity. Among them was the argument from prophecy, which he considered sufficient in itself to establish the truth of Christianity with moral certainty. Warburton was a colorful figure, with many enemies and some surprising friends. He crossed swords with the famed Conyers Middleton in public, but got on well with him personally. The story of Warburton’s life is told with candor, in the Preface to the Divine Legation, by his friend, agent, and executor, R. Worcester (signed at Hartlebury Castle, August 12, 1794). For a catalog of Warburton’s writings, available in PDF, click here.

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W. H. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924) – How We Got Our Bible


Born in 1861, W. H. Griffith Thomas died on this date in 1924. His greatest and most sophisticated work is his book The Principles of Theology, a commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. But one short and reader-friendly book that should interest students of Christian apologetics is How We Got Our Bible. (Note: The full text of this book is available online here.) Here are some themes discussed in this fine little book:W. H. Griffith Thomas The Canonicity of the Bible On the question of which books are to be recognized as divinely inspired and constitutive of God’s written revelation, Thomas writes:

The answer is that it is quite easy to prove that our Bible is the same as the church has had through the centuries. We start with the printed Bibles of today and it is obviously easy to show that they correspond with the printed Bibles of the sixteenth century, or the time when printing was invented. From these we can go back through the English and Latin versions until we reach to the great manuscripts of the fourth century as represented by the three outstanding codices known as the Codex Sinaiticus (in Petrograd), the Codex Vaticanus (in Rome), and the Codex Alexandrinus (in the British Museum). Then we can go back still farther and compare the use of Scripture in the writings of the Fathers of the third century, and from these work back to the second century when versions in several languages are found. From this it is but a short step to the time of the apostles and the actual composition of the New Testament writings. There is no reasonable doubt that we possess today what has always been regarded as the Scriptures of the Christian church. (15-16)

As to the Old Testament,

The proof . . . can be shown along similar lines. Our Old Testament is identical with the Bible of the Jews at the present time. This is the translation of Hebrew manuscripts dating from several centuries past, and the fact of the Jews always having used the same Bible as they do today is a proof that all through the ages the Christian Church has not been mistaken in its inclusion of the Old Testament in its Bible. An additional evidence of great value is the fact that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek about two centuries before Christ, and this translation is essentially the same as the Hebrew text from which we get our Old Testament. (16)

Details of this proposal are elaborated in chapter 2, where Thomas states that “the basis of our acceptance of the New Testament is what is called in technical language ‘Apostolicity’; because the books came either from Apostolic authors, or through Apostolic sanction. Our view of the Old Testament corresponds to this” (23). The Inspiration of the Bible Thomas first approaches questions about the grounds for belief in the inspiration of Scripture in a natural but often neglected way. He reasons that the fundamental question is whether the Bible has divine authority. If there is good reason to think so, then we can ask how its authority was ensured. And the answer to that is given in the doctrine of inspiration. So his discussion begins with an argument for the need for a religious authority in the conduct of our lives and for the authority of the Bible as the answer to this need. He then expounds on the doctrine of biblical inspiration in chapters 9 and 10. But his stress is on the first point.

At the outset, two things should be said: (1) If we accept the Authority of Scripture we really need not trouble about any particular theory of Inspiration, but (2) if we seek to know as fully as we can what Inspiration means we should confine ourselves strictly to facts, since Inspiration when properly understood is not a theory, but a fact. It is something we accept, whether we can explain it or not. (86)

The facts considered in the development of a theory of inspiration are those that are presented in the Scriptures themselves, as these witness to their own nature and production. Thomas rehearses the familiar data of specific passages on this question. Judaism and the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity

In the Old Testament emphasis is rightly placed on the unity of the Godhead as against the ‘gods many’ of heathenism. But in the New Testament there is the additional revelation of the Trinity, which is not only not contradictory of the Unity, but is based on it and developed out of it. Every one knows that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity never had the slightest connection with polytheism, but grew out of Jewish monotheism. It is significant that with all the Jewish objections to Christianity in Paul’s time, no trace can be found of any opposition to his doctrine of a distinction between the Deity of the Father and the Deity of the Son, which was the germ of the fully-developed doctrine of the Trinity. (79-80)

He then adds:

The explanation of this was that the Jewish believers, having been led by experience into an acceptance of Christ as a divine Redeemer (and thereby to a distinction in the Deity) found in their Old Testament anticipatory hints of the Trinity. They realized that the unity of the Godhead was compound not simple, as the Hebrew words for ‘one’ clearly indicate (Deut. 6:4; Exod. 26:6-11; Ezek. 37:16-19). (80)

Here we see sensitivity to a problem that would later arise with contact between Christianity and Islam. Whereas the Hebrew doctrine of God propounded in the Old Testament is not explicitly revealed as a Trinity, what is said of God there is (1) compatible with the Christian doctrine, and (2) revealed in anticipation of more to come. Faith and Reason For all of his emphasis on the requirement of faith and the authority of the Bible, Thomas is no fideist.

The Bible is supreme over reason. It is the light of reason and of human thought. Revelation, because it comes from God, cannot possibly dishonor reason, which also is from God. Reason is the judge of our need of revelation. It examines the claims of revelation; but once those claims are accepted, reason takes a subordinate place, and revelation is supreme. Reason examines, tests, sifts, inquires, but the moment it has become convinced that this or that comes from God, then, like Joshua of old, it says: ‘What saith my Lord unto his servant?’ So, though revelation is supreme over reason, reason examines the credentials of revelation and then submits to them. Since Christ is our Authority, what we need is the rational conviction that the Bible is the best form in which his Word reaches us, and then we submit to it, and it becomes supreme over our reason and life. (38-39)

There is always the theme of practical concern in this book about How We Got Our Bible. is not a technical treatise. It is quite intentionally written for easy accessibility. In his conclusion to chapter 10, on the inspiration of the Bible, W. H. Griffith Thomas warns against an overly-intellectualized approach to the questions he treats.

A great number of our problems are theoretical. They come from places where people spin theories absolutely remote from human life. But if we go out into the world and tell a man of the Lord Jesus Christ, and get that man to ask, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ we shall very soon get verification of the Word of God; and when we have that, we shall not need much, if any, further testimony to its inspiration. (105)

He means that commendation of the faith, when it issues in persuasion on the basis of good evidence, produces confidence in the Bible’s claim to be the Word of God.

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Arnold Lunn (1888-1974) – Skiing Expert, Agnostic, and Christian Apologist


Arnold Lunn was born to a Methodist minister, but he was himself agnostic and a critic of Christianity—until he was 45 years old, when he converted to the faith. Today is the anniversary of his death in 1974.

Lunn was a professional skier and full-time enthusiast. He founded the Alpine Ski Club and the Kandahar Ski Club. He brought slalom skiing to the racing world, and he’s the namesake for a double black diamond ski trail at Taos Ski Valley.

Lunn credited his agnosticism to the wholly unconvincing cause of Anglicanism. He looked in vain for persuasive arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. Later he Book Cover-Arnold Lunn-The Third Daywould say that “an odd hour or two at the end of a boy’s school life might not be unprofitably spent in armouring him against the half-baked dupes of ill informed secularists” (The Third Day, xvii). He wrote in criticism of the faith and debated Christianity’s prominent defenders.

Despite his religiously agnostic stance, Lunn found that problems for scientific naturalism proved equally recalcitrant. This created a dilemma for him. But his vigorous opposition to Christianity was guided by an intellectual honesty that was helpless before the evidence he exhumed. In due course he gave up and converted to Christianity. All the energy he had devoted in the cause against Christianity he now mustered on behalf of Christianity. He published several books in support of Christian belief.

He famously debated two major critics, C. E. M. Joad and J. B. S. Haldane. The inside flap of his book The Third Day observes that Lunn was an effective apologist “because he has learnt apologetics in the controversial arena.” But Lunn is unusual for having taken alternate sides in this arena. As he wrote in a pamphlet, “I can imagine no better training for the Church than to spend, as I did, a year arguing the case against Catholicism with a Catholic, and a second year in defending the Catholic position against an agnostic.”

Lunn was prolific. He wrote manuals in skiing and mountaineering, fiction, memoirs, and popular books of Christian evidences. Personal letters between himself and both Joad (Is Christianity True?, 1933) and Haldane (Science and the Supernatural, 1935) were published, as well.

Here are a few excerpts from his book in defense of the resurrection of Jesus:

Substantial Truth Under Circumstantial Variety

William Paley pointed out that human testimony is generally to be accepted when the “substantial truth” of witnesses survives despite “circumstantial variety.” This principle is practiced in courts of law when evaluating testimonial evidence presented during trial. The rule applies also in weighing the testimony of eyewitnesses to Jesus following his resurrection from the dead. Arnold Lunn puts the point this way:

If it could be proved that the various accounts which we possess of the events of the first Easter Sunday and of the subsequent appearances of Jesus to the disciples were not wholly consistent so far as details are concerned, this fact might be difficult to reconcile with any theory of direct inspiration or Biblical inerrancy but would not invalidate the evidence so far as the central fact of the Resurrection is concerned. (70-71)

Lunn is not conceding anything. He is not supposing that there are real contradictions in the eyewitness testimony. His point is that even if there were discrepancies, this would not disqualify their common testimony that Jesus did rise from the dead.

The “Collective Hallucination” Hypothesis

Lunn writes with good humor when he responds to a longstanding objection to the resurrection claim.

The anti-miraculist does not deny that the disciples believed that they had seen the risen Lord, but he asserts that they were victims of ‘collective hallucinations’. Anti-miraculists suffer from the collective illusion that a polysyllabic phrase is a satisfactory substitute, both for proof and for explanation (74, with italics added here).

So, was it the risen Lord whom the disciples saw in the flesh, or did they merely imagine that they did?

To begin, circumstances must be abnormal for any normal person to hallucinate, and more so for groups of people. Next, eyewitnesses were slow to acknowledge that it was Jesus whom they had encountered during his post-resurrection appearances. It is a curious thing that Mary Magdalen, for example “saw our Lord and mistook him for the gardener” (75). This happened, as well, when a group of disciples encountered Jesus on their way to Emmaus. The disciples in the Upper Room thought they saw a ghost. In each case, those who were present had to be persuaded that it was, in fact, Jesus who appeared to them. Whatever it was that did the trick for them, it wasn’t some hallucinatory experience. Their initial experiences did not immediately issue in recognition or faint apprehension. For they had no genuine expectation that Jesus would be raised from the dead. “They didn’t run away with their first impressions, and tell unauthenticated stories of a miracle. They examined their first impressions and only by examination learned of their miraculous truth” (75). The disciple Thomas (the “doubter”) sought to preserve the utmost sobriety in consideration of evidence and would not even accept the testimony of his closest peers without firsthand experience.

It is indeed ironical that those who cannot accept the Resurrection of Jesus because it is unique are driven to postulate something no less unique, a ‘collective hallucination’ of a type not paralleled in all the records of human illusion, an illusion which has had an infinitely greater effect on the course of history than any admitted fact. (77)

The Origin of Primitive Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus

The real difficulty for any critic is to make sense of “the origin of a belief so contrary . . . to human experience” and to the expectations of Jesus’ disciples. They would have to have been desperate fanatics to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus before the gaze of those who had crucified their Lord, and to endure physical persecution and martyrdom. Somehow they managed to rock their world with their message, as countless numbers came to believe on the basis of their testimony.

The Empty Tomb

It has always impressed me that, though the tomb of Jesus was well-known to his disciples, there is no evidence of veneration, such as you would expect from family and friends with deep affection for a charismatic leader. As Lunn says, “From the moment that the women return from the Garden the tomb of Jesus passes, historically, into complete oblivion” (The Third Day, 83). If the disciples had not been convinced of the resurrection, they might well have regarded it as a shrine; they would have remained in Jerusalem rather than devote themselves to worldwide proclamation of a gospel they knew to be false.

Lunn examines several anti-miraculist hypotheses meant to explain the empty tomb. He calls these “anti-miraculist” because they are, without exception, motivated by a positive denial of the supernatural:

  1. Jesus did not die on the cross, but recovered in the tomb from which he subsequently escaped.
  2. The women made a mistake and went to the wrong tomb.
  3. The sepulchre in which Jesus was first buried was never intended to be a permanent tomb. Joseph of Arithmathea removed the body and transferred it to another sepulchre.
  4. Strauss’s proposal: It is quite possible that it [the body] was thrown into some dishonourable place with those of other executed criminals, and in this case his disciples may have, at first, had no opportunity of seeing the body. Later, when they preached the Resurrection, even their opponents would have found it difficult to recognise his body and to provide proofs of its identity.
  5. The disciples stole the body from the tomb.

Lunn demonstrates that “a reconstruction of the situation” answers each of these objections and reveals them to be due to an anti-miraculist bias.

Secularism and the Decline of Morality

Lunn had a way with the pen. “If a man be nothing more than first cousin to the chimpanzee, he has no logical ground of complaint if he is put behind bars” (The Third Day, xi; italics are mine). As religion declines, so too does morality decline. Atheism dooms humanity to a denial of what makes human persons human and worthy of moral respect. Even if true, the effect is most unpleasant. I would add that if we are little more than a bundle of nerves and their impulses, operating mechanically in a purely physical and deterministic world, it should come as a a real surprise that we are capable of noticing this “fact” and finding it disturbing.

The “Aesthetics of Argument”

Lunn lamented the Revolt Against Reason (the title of a book published in 1950), manifest not only among notional Christians but also by scientific materialists. He happily owned the accusation that he was a Christian rationalist. Evidence was, for him, the only sure path to responsible belief. Emotionalism and the general neglect of reason exact a costly loss of confidence and a failure of witness.

To counter this trend, Lunn called for what he termed an “aesthetic of argument.” He says, in the introduction to his book that details the case for the resurrection, that his aim is to convert the unconverted. He was converted under the pressure of evidence, and ever after it was his lifelong ambition to assist others along that path. He was convinced that public debate, especially at universities, was a valuable investment in this cause. For it ensured that more would attend to the arguments out of curiosity about the outcome of a debate than they would at a church-sponsored meeting.

This has been my experience, too.

* * *

For any young person who aspires to the work of an apologist, I cannot recommend enough a close study of the life and work of Arnold Lunn. One could do with more admirable leaders in this field of Christian theology and practice.

Notes:

  1. There is a brief interesting review of the Lunn-Joad correspondence in here.
  2. C. E. M. Joad, a vociferous critic of Christianity, later converted to Christianity, and subsequently was, in his own way, a defender of the faith. See The Recovery of Belief (1952).
  3. There is an inspiring brief biography, written by Bernard O’Connor, Archibishop of Melbourne. Here’s the link to my own marked copy.
  4. A review of Lunn’s book The Third Day is to be found in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 35.137 (March 1946): 118-21.
  5. Science and the Supernatural, a compilation of the letters between Lunn and Haldane, is available online here.

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Justin Martyr—Apologist for Today


Justin Martyr Stained GlassToday is the Feast Day for Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 AD), considered by many to be the first great apologist of the Christian church. The apostle Paul is surely a better candidate for that distinction. But Paul was an inspired author of Scripture. This is not true of any of the other great Christian apologists. And Justin apparently was the first of these. Certainly, he is the first whose writings have survived and are available in English translation.

Justin is mentioned with admiration by many of the ancients. Tatian, his pupil (according to Irenaeus), was fond of Justin. We learn from Tertullian that he was martyred for his advocacy for Christianity. Eusebius of Caesarea, the first church historian, who was himself an apologist, has much to say about Justin.

We have an account of Justin’s conversion in chapters 7 and 8 of his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. What he recounts sounds like the story of a stranger’s witness to the truth of Christianity by various evidences and the stranger’s persuasion of an open-minded philosopher—namely, Justin—by these evidences. With the word of the stranger’s testimony, says Justin, “my spirit was immediately set on fire.”

Justin’s meditations, in addition to further study, led him to conclude that Christ had revealed “the only sure and useful philosophy.” Though the authenticity of this account is uncertain, Justin’s zeal for Christ and perseverance in defense of the faith are incontestable. Chapter 2 in the Second Apology reflects a debt to the faithful testimony of other Christians in his movement from Platonism to Christian belief (see also Second Apology, chapter 12).

His chief works in Christian apologetics include Dialogue with Trypho the Jew; First Apology; and, Second Apology. There is much that is admirable and worthy of fresh consideration in all of his writings. As to the first, the following understatement, from The Oxford Classical Dictionary, very nearly says it all: “He seems never to have been attracted to Judaism.”

Here are a few nuggets from Justin’s First Apology:

Criteria for Rational Belief

Early in his First Apology, Justin set forth a controlling principle, which we today might call a basic intellectual virtue.

Reason dictates that those who are truly pious and philosophical should honor and love only the truth, declining to follow  opinions of the ancients, if they are worthless” (chapter 2).

He invited scrutiny of the evidence and did not expect an irrationalist response to Christian preaching. And he urged his audience to weigh the evidence and resist any temptation to accept what is less reasonable because it is more palatable.

The Possibility of Resurrection

David L. Edwards relates that “as a young man he [Justin] had been a Platonist, until he had ceased to believe that souls could, if they tried hard enough, remember their pure life before birth.” This belief gave way to Christian hope in a future resurrection. For anyone who thinks it laughable that a dead body, dissolved into its constituents and diffused into the earth, might be raised physically from the dead, Justin makes an interesting observation. He asks them to imagine that they had no knowledge of the means of procreation, and to consider how they would react if they were shown both human seed and a picture of a mature human person, and then were told that from such a seed the man was produced. This would exceed anyone’s capacity to believe. And yet it would be true. As it is by the power of God that this thing comes to pass, so it is no less possible that God clothes the soul again in the future with the same body of the person who has died. He then recites Matthew 19:26 and Matthew 10:28. (See chapter 19.)

Common Ground in Reasoning with Nonbelievers

Justin also took pains to seek common ground with nonbelievers in his proclamation of Christian doctrine. The details of his method cannot be developed here. But students of Justin have examined his appeal to ancient philosophers (e.g., Socrates and Plato) in drawing out the truth of Christian belief. He held that many vital elements of God’s truth—shown forth more fully and in greater glory through the Old Testament prophets, Jesus Christ, and the New Testament writers—are latent in ancient pagan philosophers.

This point served at least two purposes. First, it pointed to the incompleteness of secular philosophies; second, it suggested such a connection with the complete truth realized in Christ that this would count in support of the Christian philosophy. (See chapters 20-23). Still, whereas “we say things similar to what the Greeks say, we only are hated on account of the name of Christ” (chapter 24). Christ’s philosophy goes beyond the classic creeds of the pagans, and this is a point of resistance for many.

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

I find especially interesting a passage in chapter 28. Speaking of God’s delay in bringing final judgment on on Satan and his minions, Justin writes:

For the reason why God has delayed to do this is His regard for the human race; for He foreknows that some are to be saved by repentance, and perhaps some not yet born. In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and of acting rightly, so that all people are without excuse before God; for they have been born capable of exercising reason and intelligence.

Observe, first, Justin’s doctrine of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. He is not altogether explicit here, but he intimates that God knows in advance what men and women, including perhaps those who do not yet exist, will freely do when presented with the opportunity to repent. His mention of those who have not yet been born invites curiosity about how he might regard the Molinist doctrine of divine middle knowledge. Second, he stresses the accountability of men and women for believing what is true, on the grounds that they are created with the capacity for “exercising reason and intelligence.”

Fulfilled Prophecy

Justin put much stock in the evidence of fulfilled prophecy to support the Christian verdict about Jesus Christ. He lists many prophecies of the Hebrew prophets and reasons that they are fulfilled in Jesus. He notes that the work of Christ was predicted even by Moses (see Gen. 49:11). He appeals to Isaiah 7:14 as a foretelling of the virgin birth of Christ (see Luke 1:32 and Matt. 1:21), and to Micah 5:2 regarding the place where Christ, as Messiah, would be born. He sees in Jesus fulfillment of such  prophecies as we find in Isaiah 52:2, 58:2, Psalm 22:16, and Zechariah 9:9-10. (See chapters 30-53.)

This method in Christian apologetics is nothing new. Justin even addresses the objection that the alleged fulfillment of prophecy is evidence for fatalism (see chapters 43 and 44; see also Second Apology, chapter 7). And he mounts an inductive argument, from the fulfillment of past prophecies to the reasonable expectation that those that remain will also be fulfilled. This claim serves both as a confirmation of Christianity and as a warning not to neglect the philosophy of Christ. (See chapter 52.) Justin even rebuts the objection that the Christian doctrine of salvation is compromised, since those who, living before Christ, could not have obeyed Christ for salvation (see chapter 47).

The Second Apology

If the First Apology is a more general treatise in apologetics, the much shorter Second Apology addresses more practical concerns due to the experience of Christians under pagan persecution. He touches on the problem of divine wisdom in the permission of suffering. He includes a note about why persecuted Christians do not commit suicide (chapter 4).

Extensive Source List for the Study of Justin Martyr

  • L. W. Barnard, Justin Martyr: His Life and Thought (1967)
  • L. W. Barnard, “Justin Martyr in Recent Study,” Scottish Journal of Theology 22 (1969): 152-64
  • L. W. Barnard, Justin Martyr: The First and Second Apologies (Engl. trans.) (1997)
  • L. W. Barnard, “The Logis Theology of Justin Martyr,” Downside Review 89 (1971): 132-41
  • A. Bellinzoni, The Sayings of Jesus in the Writings of St. Justin Martyr (1967)
  • R. M. Berchman, From Philo to Origen: Middle Platonism in Transition (1984)
  • A. Bery, Saint Justin: Sa vie et sa doctrine (1911)
  • A. W. F. Blunt, The Apologies of Justin Martyr (1911)
  • L. R. Bush, Classical Readings in Christian Apologetics: A.D. 100-1800 (1983), 1-29
  • H. Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and Classical Tradition (1966)
  • H. Chadwick, “Justin Martyr’s Defense of Christianity,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 47 (1965): 275-97
  • F. H. Colson, “Notes on Justin Martyr, Apology,” Journal of Theological Studies 23 (1922): 161-71
  • F. L. Cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
  • J. Daniélou, Message évangelique et culture héllénstique (Eng. trans. 1973)
  • I. J. Davidson, The Birth of the Church: From Jesus to Constantine (2004)
  • A. J. Droge, “Justin Martyr and the Restoration of Philosophy,” Church History 56 (1987): 303-319
  • D. L. Edwards, Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years (1997)
  • M. J. Edwards, “On the Platonic Schooling of Justin Martyr,” Journal of Theological Studies 42 (1991): 17-34
  • A. A. T. Ehrhardt, “Justin Martyr’s Two Apologies,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 4 (1953): 1-16
  • M. S. Enslin, “Justin Martyr: An Appreciation,” Jewish Quarterly Review 34 (1944): 179-205
  • S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (2003)
  • N. L. Geisler, “Justin Martyr,” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (2006), 395-97
  • B. L. Gildersleeve, The Apologies of Justin Martyr (1877)
  • E. R. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr (1923, 1968)
  • R. M. Grant, “Aristotle and the Conversion of Justin,” Journal of Theological Studies 7 (1956): 246-48
  • R. M. Grant, Greek Apologists of the Second Century (1988)
  • R. M. Grant, “A Woman from Rome: Justin Apol. 2.2,” Church History (1985): 461-72
  • A. Harnack, Judentum und Judenchristentum in Justinus’ Dialog mit Trypho, Texte und Untersuchungen 39 (1913)
  • H. S. Holland, “Justinus Martyr, St.,” in Dictionary of Christian Biography 3:560-87 (1882)
  • R. Holte, “Logos spermatikos: Christianity and Ancient Philosophy According to St. Justin’s Apologies,” Studia Theologica 12 (1958): 109-168
  • Justin Martyr, “Apologia,” in The Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, volume 1
  • Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (various editions)
  • Justin Martyr, First Apology (various editions)
  • Justin Martyr, Second Apology (various editions)
  • Justin Martyr, “Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection,” in The Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, volume 1
  • P. Keresztes, “The Emperor Antoninus Pius and the Christians, Journal of Ecclesiastical History (1971): 1-18
  • P. Keresztes,”The Literary Genre of Justin’s First Apology,” Vigilae Christianae 19 (1965): 99-110
  • P. Keresztes,”The ‘so-called’ Second Apology of Justin,” Latomus 24 (1965): 858-69
  • M. J. Langrange, Saint Justin, Martyr (1914)
  • C. C. Martindale, Justin Martyr (1921)
  • H. Musurilla, The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (1972)
  • E. F. Osborn, Justin Martyr (1973)
  • G. T. Purves, The Testimony of Justin Martyr to Early Christianity (1988)
  • J. S. Romanides, “Justin Martyr and the Fourth Gospel,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 4 (1958-1959)
  • W. A. Shotwell, The Biblical Exegesis of Justin Martyr (1965)
  • O. Sarksaune, “The Conversion of Justin Martyr,” Studia Theologica 30 (1976): 53-73)
  • O. Sarksaune,The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition (1987)
  • C. I. K. Story, The Nature of Truth in the Gospel of Truth in the Writings of Justin Martyr (1971)
  • D. Trakatellis, The Pre-Existence of Christ in the Writings of Justin Martyr (1976)
  • C. J. de Vogel, “Problems Concerning Justin Martyr,” Menemosyne 31 (1978): 360-88
  • J. C. van Windon, An Early Christian Philosophy: Trypho 1-9 (1971)
  • C. M. Watts, “The Humanity of Jesus in Justin Martyr’s Soteriology,” Evangelical Quarterly 56 (1984): 21-33
  • P. R. Weis, “Some Samaritanisms of Justin Martyr,” Journal of Theological Studies 45 (1944): 199-205
  • D. F. Wright, “Christian Faith in the Greek World: Justin Martyr’s Testimony,” Evangelical Quarterly 54 (1982): 77-87
  • J. E. Wynne-Morgan, “The Holy Spirit and Christian Experience in Justin Martyr,” Vigilae Christianae 38 (1984): 172-77

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Crossing the Heath with William Paley (1743-1805)


On this date in 1805, the Christian church lost one of its ablest and most-remembered defenders. William Paley—Anglican minister, professor, and author—is permanently associated with the analogy of a watchmaker and the God of personal theism. He wrote that “the contrivances of nature . . . are not less evidently mechanical, not less evidently contrivances, not less accommodated to their end or suited to their office, than are the most perfect productions of human ingenuity” (Natural Theology, 1802). Paley mined the riches of biology for samples of such contrivance. In his day, the state of scientific knowledge in the field of biology permitted comparatively easy inference to the appearance of teleology in the natural world. Critics today forget this. The

William Paley, Natural Theology

William Paley, Natural Theology

“demise” of Paley’s design argument for the existence of God is credited especially to a development that was to happen some 60 years later—the emergence of the new theory of evolution, beginning with the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). Paley’s major work—Natural Theology; or, Evidence of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. Collected from the Appearances of Nature—enjoyed a pretty good “survival” record itself. His work was considered essential reading at universities for a hundred or more years. Also, some critics maintain that David Hume dealt a decisive blow to Paley’s argument. Never mind that Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion appeared posthumously in 1779, that Paley was thoroughly familiar with the Dialogues, that Paley developed his argument in express response to Hume’s critique, and that Paley was thought to have bested Hume by many of Paley’s contemporaries. He was not entirely unsuccessful in this endeavor, though some, like John Stuart Mill, believed that they had detected formal weaknesses in his argument. Here is the famous passage from Paley’s Natural Theology:

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there.Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? Why is it not admissible in the second case, as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that, when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it.

Paley then produces examples of these components in a watch:

To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts, and of their offices, all tending to one result: We see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavour to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain (artificially wrought for the sake of flexure) communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels, the teeth of which catch in, and apply to each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance, and from the balance to the pointer; and at the same time, by the size and shape of those wheels, so regulating that motion, as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to pass over a given space in a given time. We take notice that the wheels are made of brass in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material employed in no other part of the work; but in the room of which, if there had been any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not be seen without opening the case. This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood), the inference, we think, is inevitable; that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.

This truly economical and accurate description of a watch and its function is impressive. It is described in meticulous detail for a reason, to bring it into comparison with “contrivances of nature”:

For every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the world of nature, of being greater and more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation. I mean, that the contrivances of nature surpass the contrivances of art, in the complexity, subtilty, and curiosity of the mechanism; and still more, if possible, do they go beyond them in number and variety: yet, in a multitude of cases, are not less evidently contrivances, not less evidently accommodated to their end, or suited to their office, than are the most perfect products of human ingenuity.

An astonishing array of natural objects are observed and described next. The inference, of course, is that, there being an analogy between (a) an artifact of the sort that a watch is and (b) objects in the natural world such as the ones he has cataloged, there is an “artificer,” or designer, of the natural world. Darwin was not impressed. He was convinced that the natural phenomena in Paley’s inventory could be accounted for by a process of purely natural selection. But it was not clear when Darwin introduced his thesis, and it is not clear even now, that the full range of natural phenomena are best explained in terms of natural selection. There isn’t space here to defend Paley in detail. But it is key to his argument that close observation and deep understanding of an object may be needed to pick out what is best explained by the design hypothesis. Darwin’s theory entails that fully formed organisms that function in complex ways are the by-products of a long, slow, unguided process. And yet, for many organisms under observation today, at various stages in their developmental history, they lack functional utility. On the Darwinian hypothesis, nothing draws them toward functionality. And for some such organisms, nothing is extraneous to their function once they reach a capacity for function. This is Paley’s basic insight. It has been exploited more recently by Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, where the human “contrivance” he uses to make the same basic point is even simpler than a watch; it is the common mousetrap.

William Paley

William Paley

While Paley is best known, and most commonly chastised, for his teleological argument, he made other important contributions to the cause of Christian apologetics. His earlier work A View of the Evidences of Christianity, investigates the special evidence that supports apostolic testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ and defends the historicity of their accounts of Jesus in the Gospels. Those who follow the work of today’s apologists in defense of these claims will recognize the influence of William Paley. (See, for example, William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, chapter 8.) Paley’s critics have been altogether too dismissive of his extraordinary achievement. I feel sure that most have never examined his two major works for themselves. These skeptics are as likely as not to have rendered a negative verdict on the basis of brief snippets of Paley’s teleological argument, lifted from context and reprinted in some classroom anthology, or on the basis of hearsay, which is guilty of the same. And many Christian apologists today have neglected the riches of William Paley’s methodical and systematic work. I commend fresh consideration of his writings. Who knows what a ramble in the heath with this great thinker might turn up?

***

Notes:

  • Paley’s Natural Theology (Oxford World’s Classics series) is avaliable at Amazon here.
  • A free Kindle edition of Paley’s A View of the Evidences of Christianity can be obtained here.

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The Great Dane—Remembering Kierkegaard


Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Today is Søren Kierkegaard’s birthday. He was born May 5, 1813, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He’s been called a Christian existentialist, a fideist, a satirist, and “the melancholy Dane.” He was concerned about the disconnect between Christian profession and the lived reality of true Christianity. He called his contemporaries to a deeper personal encounter with God. And he wrote with penetrating insight about the failure of the purely aesthetic life—what we today might call secularism—which seeks pleasure without discerning its natural and ultimate end, namely, despair. Kiekegaard’s contribution is considerable, even for the evidentialist. In fact, his sermonic style may be of value to the apologist who insists on the value of evidence. E. J. Carnell, mid-twentieth century, did the most to bring Kierkegaard’s insight into an overall “combinationalist” approach to apologetics. Carnell wrote:

There can be no question that Søren Kierkegaard gave a profoundly convincing defense of the third locus of truth.

Carnell was speaking of a “third way of knowing,” which respects the tendencies of the human heart, properly submitted to God, to discern religious truth. In this, Kierkegaard (and Carnell) were like Blaise Pascal, who spoke of “reasons of the heart which reason cannot know.” Carnell’s commentary on Kierkegaard continues:

What Christianity has always assumed, Kierkegaard made explicit. . . . Saving faith is not simply an intellectual assent to objective facts. Faith is cordial trust; it is a concerned, inward response to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Until the end of time, therefore, men who remember what it means to be a person will defend the supremacy of truth as inwardness. God sent His Son to make us good, not simply to make it possible for us to recite the creeds of the church.

Carnell is saying that few apologists have noted this vital aspect of Christian belief and conduct. But he issues a caveat:

But what must be questioned is the prudence of Kiekegaard’s attempt to secure inward truth by opposing it to objective evidences. It is from his lips, not those of the biblical writers, one learns that faith must believe what understanding finds contradictory—and for that very reason. Scripture’s healthy balance of the loci of truth has been upset by Kierkegaard. Rationality was bequethed by Jesus Christ as a light by which men may penetrate the darkness of error. ‘The true light that enlightens [gives a spiritually rational nature to] every man was coming into this world’ (John 1:9). Being a rational creature, thus, man must proportion his spiritual commitments to what the mind can conscientiously clear. Apart from this distribution of authority edification is impossible. . . . Saving faith germinates only after the mind is first convinced of the sufficiency of the evidences. If Christ taught plain logical nonsense . . . a balanced man would turn aside from Him as one to be pitied, not trusted. The reason why we are able to trust Christ is that He spoke and lived in a way which is congenial with our axiological expectations.

For Carnell, our “axiological expectations” include both what is existentially compelling and what is rationally convincing. “Faith” without the soul’s commitment may not be faith at all. But what is faith if it is not grounded in good reason? For anyone can have faith in anything.

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Other posts in this series . . .

William Beauchamp—On the Urgency of Christian Apologetics for Our Time


Here are some words of exhortation that have special application to the events and conditions of our present tumultuous age:

At a time like this, when the principles of depravity operate with so much violence, as to throw the world into a state of high fermentation; when the scum of human society, and the dregs of corruption, are thrown up to public view; when the sense of moral rectitude is so lost, that even this scum and these dregs, instead of being seen with abhorrence, have become objects of public admiration; when so many false doctrines are advanced, and infidelity, libertinism, vice and impiety make such a bold stand against truth and righteousness; when the judgments of God are collecting from almost every quarter, and bursting on the earth from almost every direction; when the last plagues designed to exterminate the mystery of iniquity are poured out; when revolutions, greater than have ever taken place in the world, are apparently at hand; at a time like this, how necessary the study of the Christian Religion! Danger seems increasing every moment: caution should keep pace with it. But whence, in this eventful day, can we draw the principles of caution, prudence and wisdom, if not from the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And can we with diligence seek these principles, and with confidence exercise them, unless we have firm faith in the truth of our Holy Religion?

This is from the author’s preface to William Beauchamp’s classic work Essays on the Truth of the Christian Religion, published in 1811. Beauchamp was born on today’s date, April 26, in 1772. He died in 1824. For the complete text of William Beauchamp’s book, click here. Others born in 1811 include:

  • Horace Greeley
  • Robert Bunsen
  • Henry James, Sr.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Franz Lizst

1811, and those leading up to and following in succession, was a year of worldwide unrest and disillusionment. Not unlike our own times. The first decade of the century marked the unofficial end of the Enlightenment. Thomas Jefferson’s presidency ended in 1909. He was succeeded by James Madison, who would preside over the War of 1812. This did not go well; the British would set fire to the White House in 1814. Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), had published his famous work Zoonomia from 1794 to 1796. The mood began to shift gradually toward those doctrines of natural selection and survival of the fittest that would be make the grandson famous some fifty years later. But the spirit of evolution was not strong or threatening enough to elicit treatment in Beauchamp’s apologetic. There were notable advances in culture. To name just one, Beethoven was hard at work composing his symphonies.

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Other posts in this series . . .

Remembering Edward John Carnell—Some Reflections of a Great Apologist


On this date in 1967, the church lost a great Christian philosopher and apologist named Edward John Carnell. He was almost 48 years old. Today marks the 48th anniversary of his death. He was a graduate of Wheaton College and of Westminster Theological Seminary. He later earned doctoral degrees in theology and philosophy, at Harvard Divinity School and Boston University, respectively.

E. J. Carnell (1919-1967)

E. J. Carnell (1919-1967)

E. J. Carnell, was an ordained Baptist minister and one-time president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He authored numerous books, including four major works in Christian apologetics. All of these are in my personal library, well-marked and much-appreciated. He was intellectually rigorous and pastorally sensitive, a rare combination among defenders of the faith. His chief work in apologetics is the book An Introduction to Christian Apologetics. In the preface to the 4th edition (1952), Carnell asked, “If Christianity is not worth defending, what then is?” Here are a few of my favorite quotations from that book. On philosophy, logic, and experience:

Philosophy may not bake bread, but it has a strange power for making people do things. (32) We cannot choose between logic and experience. Without logic our experience cannot be normative; without experience our logic cannot be relevant to the human situation. (39) Coherence cannot stop with a segment of our experience; it must go on to embrace it all. (95)

Speaking of truth, he wrote:

The true is a quality of that judgment or proposition which, when followed out into the total witness of facts in our experience, does not disappoint our expectations. (45)

On faith he said,

Too often faith is used as an epistemological device to avoid the hard labor of straight thinking. (65)

I often ask students who are tempted to abandon their Christian faith, “But what will you believe instead?” Carnell made a similar point:

In considering Christianity, then, one must pay attention not only to the implications which flow from it as a given hypothesis, but also those which flow from its denial. (97-98)

Carnell sought to develop a full-orbed apologetic, one that is realistic about all dimensions of human aspiration and sensitivity:

The mind is drawn by the true, the will by the good, and the feelings by the beautiful.

I especially like his take on the necessity of special divine revelation:

The fundamental reason why we need special revelation is to answer the question, What must I do to be saved? Happiness is our first interest, but this happiness cannot be ours until we know just how God is going to dispose of us at the end of history. . . . Until we have definite information on the subject, we have no sure guarantee that He who made us will not also destroy us. (176)

On atheism he said,

A man must be everywhere at the same time to say there is no God, which is nothing but a short way of making himself God. (186)

What about science versus the mysteries of Scripture?

The very presence of mystery in the Bible is prima facie evidence for the fact that it is dealing with, not avoiding, reality. (208-209)

He held that our verdict regarding Jesus is worldview defining:

What a man thinks of Jesus Christ, therefore, determines his entire view of God and man. (212)

I agree. And that is why I have every confidence that settling the question of Jesus’ identity, in relation to ourselves, is the most important task any of us will be asked to consider. What about science? It is useless in dealing with the human situation:

What scientific experience can change the vile heart of man? What chemical formula can prevent man from plotting that last war which shall destroy all life? Man, as ever, needs God to give his moral life direction and reason. (229)

On the believer’s hope in the resurrection, if it never happened:

If a miracle—which never occurred—can be the basis for a real spiritual hope, then the time has come at last when we can put a square peg into a round hole and make it fit snugly. (245)

Carnell’s other great work in apologetics, called Christian Commitment, is truly original. From this book, I will allow myself only one quotation. It captures what is fundamental to any prospect of coming into Christian conviction—a willingness to be willing to obey God, come what may:

But how do we explain the fact that the Psalmist loved the law of God? The answer is, he loved the law of God because it was the will of God. (289)

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Other posts in this series . . .

Doug to Speak at the 2012 National Apologetics Conference “To Everyone an Answer”


Doug will be speaking November 3 at the 2012 National Apologetics Conference in Santa Ana, California.

  • Conference theme & dates: “To Everyone an Answer”—November 3 & 4
  • Doug’s assigned presentation title: “Can Man Live without God?”
  • Date and time of Doug’s presentation: Friday, November 3, 8:30-9:15 p.m.
  • Other speakers include Josh McDowell, Walter Kaiser, Jr., Erwin Lutzer, Norman Geisler, David Geisler, John Sanford, and Ed Hindson
  • Location: Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, 3800 South Fairview Street, Santa Ana, CA 92704

Admission is free.

For additional details, see www.veritasseminary.com or call (951) 698-6389.

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