Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Great Thinkers often make Great Apologists, Pinocchio.

Image result for donkey pinocchio
Some arguments make you grow long ears.
I often hear skeptics sneer at Christian apologists.  "He's not a real scientist, he's just an apologist," that sort of thing.  Or as the New Testament critic Richard Miller put it in more detail on Debunking Christianity recently:

"Apologetics is a ruse. Instead of taking on real scientists, philosophers, and historians through the established qualifications of field graduate education and peer review discursive engagement...they study their game of rhetoric under other apologists, foisting themselves on a gullible Christian audience. It’s all parlor tricks and fraud, not authentic human knowledge."

What strikes me, on the contrary, is how many of the greatest thinkers in human history have been Christian apologists.  Here was my initial list:

Blaise Pascal
Matteo Ricci
Johannes Kepler
Sir Isaac Newton
JN Farquhar
G. K. Chesterton
C. S. Lewis
John Polkinghorne
JRR Tolkien
John Locke
Rene Descartes
Robert Boyle
James Legge
Don Page
Alvin Plantinga

To which posters added, among others, the following names:

Kopernikus, Galileo, Brahe, Descartes, Leibniz, Gassendi, Mersenne, Cuvier, Harvey, Dalton, Faraday, Herschel, Joule, Lyell, Lavoisier, Priestley, Kelvin, Ohm, Ampere, Steno, Pasteur, Maxwell, Planck, Mendel, Lemaitre.

Christians, not necessarily apologists, true -- though I believe some were, certainly Leibnitz.  Also:

St. John Damascene, St Justin Martyr, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, St. Gennadios Scholarios, St. John Chrysostom, Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure, St. Anselm of Canterbury, Eusebius of Caesarea, St. Basil the Great.

Let me pause merely to note that St. Anselm wasn't actually from Canterbury, he was from a town in the Italian Alps. 

Edward Feser, David S. Oderberg, Gaven Kerr, Fr. Thomas Joseph White, Fr. Frederick Copleston, Bishop Robert Barron, David Bentley Hart, Raymond Brown, Brant Pitre, Eleonore Stump, Barry Miller, Fr. Brian Davies, Fr. John Romanides, Christopher Ferrara, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, Jacques Maritain, St. Edith Stein, Dennis Bonnette, Richard Swinburne...

I can't claim to know all these people, though would like to get to know some better.  But more were coming:

Frank Tipler.  N. T. Wright.  Darrell Bock.  Francis Bacon, William Paley, George Berkeley.  Moreland, Craig, Williard, Habermas.  Dembski, Meyer, Axe.  Bock, Evans, Witherington, Dan Wallace.

On science, again: Anders Kvellestad, Francis Collins, Colin Humphreys, John Polkinghorne, Ard A. Louis, Denis Lameroux, Steven C. Meyer.

Someone also posted this graph of leading scientists, showing that Christians (in yellow) have continued contributing immensely (though the part for the 20th Century may not be strictly representative):

A few more philosophers: Peter Kreeft.  Anthony Flew.  Pope John Paul II.  

I can vouch for some of these folks as both top-notch thinkers and Christian apologists, and others you likely know already.  

And I do think I have also increased "authentic human knowledge" in my work.  So have numerous friends whom I've had the privilege of knowing, who also argue powerfully for the Christian faith.  Tim McGrew, Ard Louis and Don Page [the latter two also named above], Don Richardson, Rodney Stark, Ben McFarland, and Dr. Paul Brand, are among the better-known who come to mind - but I find Christian apologists thick on the ground in places like Oxford.  

We also neglected to mention psychologists who argue at least implicitly for the Christian faith -- some names come to mind.  (Robert Coles, Paul Vitz, Armond Nicholi, even Ernest Becker and M Scott Peck, in some ways.)  Not to mention psychological writers like Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alexander Solzenitsyn, Walker Percy, who at least flirt with apologetics at time.  

It is true that the most elite scientists in America, by some measurements, are far less likely to be believers than are ordinary citizens.  I described a variety of reasons for that, largely sociological, in The Truth Behind the New Atheism.   And that fact alone may explain why so many top-flight Christian thinkers are also apologists: they have to be, to explain their quixotic position to their colleagues.  Besides, these are people who are wired that way, to think deeply about important questions and demand evidence for what they believe.  

It is also true that one can find lots of shoddy apologetics.  The popularity of the likes of Ken Ham and other Young-Earth Creationism is an embarrassment, to be sure, and not the only such embarrassment.  But atheists have their own crosses to bear in that regard.

And clearly, some of the greatest thinkers ever, have in fact been Christian apologists.  That's a touch of glory, but it's also a high standard for us to follow.  

One should be careful about easy dismissals of any class of people.   

Miller's real point is the same as that of Honest John in the Disney 1940 classic Pinocchio.  "So you haven't heard of the EEEEEASY way to success?"  After which John eats Pinocchio's apple, detours him from going to school, and sends him to an island where boys are turned into donkeys to work in the mines.  "They don't come back -- as BOYS!"  

Miller wants to take a shortcut to success in defeating Christianity.  This particular shortcut is an abbreviated (of course) form of ad hominem. 

"Christians are Cretans, or at least ostriches hiding their heads in the sand, and Cretans and ostriches can't reason and have no good arguments.  Therefore we can dismiss Christians, knowing their arguments must be wrong, without really listening, carefully observing the facts the best Christian thinkers point to, and considering whether their  arguments from those facts carry water."

And indeed, aside from personal attacks, no skeptic has even tried to seriously deal with the main arguments in my books.  

The easy road to success.

"BRAAAAAAHHHH!"  Image result for donkey pinocchio



Richard C. Miller said...

David your odd-ball list contains no apologists who were credentialed in the areas of the apologetic claims (e.g., Cosmology, Classical History, etc). All of the individuals in your list were either:

1. Not Christian apologists (e.g. Galileo)
2. Not academically legitimate in the area of the claims (e.g., Lewis)
3. Not recognized by secular field experts (e.g. Moreland)

So, this whole page just amounts to more parlor tricks and nonsense. Why mislead your readers? Why not just accept the valid criticism and raise the bar, instead of painting a grossly dishonest picture that only seeks to excuse a patently pathetic state in your own field?

David B Marshall said...

Sorry, Richard, that is patently untrue. Every, or almost every, great thinker I named who worked in the modern era under the present system of credentialing, in fact offered apologetic arguments related to their own area of expertise. (What exceptions do you find? Have you really even read all these writers, that you know enough to make such a universal negative claim?) Of course I don't limit myself to modern thinkers, since "genuine human knowledge" didn't begin yesterday, and many of those I named forwarded that knowledge to an exceptional degree.

C. S. Lewis was academically qualified in both philosophy and in literary history and criticism (have you taught your subjects at Oxford University?), all areas in which he made strong Christian arguments.

Are you asserting that doctorates in philosophy from the University of Southern California are not recognized? Or that publishing with Oxford U Press and Rutgers U Press, among others, is just a "parlor trick?"

And then you add that I am "misleading my readers" as to the "pathetic" state of "my field." Yet apologetics is not "my field," at least not academically. And despite your obfuscations and errors, I would characterize your original claims as strongly refuted by the facts cited above. This is extremely impressive company to be in, which is why, while I am not credentialed as an "apologist," I am honored to be spoken of in such a company.