Snippets of True Reason, part 4

This is the final installment of this series, which we began back in May (2017). I hope you enjoy the last four snippets from Gilson & Weitnauer’s True Reason, as the contributors continue to address important topics that are often raised against the rationality and moral consistency of Christianity by atheists and other skeptics.

Fifteen: “The Problem of Evil and Reasonable Christian Responses” (John M. DePoe)

“One of the oldest and most persisting challenges to the rationality of the Christian worldview is the problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of a wholly good, all-powerful, all-knowing God…. On its face, the problem of evil raises legitimate questions and challenges that Christians need to address if they proclaim the rationality of their worldview. However, the reasonable atheist who raises the problem of evil should not simply raise the problem of evil and abruptly check out from the marketplace of ideas…. This piece is written for those who not only ask questions but also have the intellectual integrity to listen to the answers.

…[My thesis] is that it is not reasonable to conclude that God does not exist because of the existence of evil. While it is easy to allow one’s emotions to sway one’s judgment when the problem of evil is raised, it is crucial to let reason — and not emotion — be the judge of what is rational to believe.” (pp.206-207)

Sixteen: “Historical Evidences for the Gospels” (Randall Hardman)

“One final comment on oral tradition, concerning the basic question of fallibility in memory. It is certainly true that we don’t always remember things accurately, we forget important material, we mix up events, and occasionally just get something really wrong. Often these sorts of failures are ascribed to the Gospels, as if that settles the matter once and for all. But it’s important to realize that one cannot draw a sound analogy from highly technologized and literary culture to a predominantly oral/aural non-technologized one. We use our memories in drastically different ways. This must cause us to reevaluate the mental capabilities of predominantly oral cultures. When one looks to the ancient world, one realizes that the inherent capabilities of their minds to remember significant information far exceeds our own. It would not be at all difficult for Mark to recall the traditions that Peter would have told, or more accurately performed, on numerous occasions.” (pp.242)

Seventeen: “Did God Command the Genocide of the Canaanites” (Matthew Flannagan)

“While Deuteronomy 7:2 and 20:16-17 command Israel to ‘utterly destroy’ the Canaanites and to ‘not leave alive anything that breathes,’ numerous other texts claim the Canaanites are to be ‘driven out,’ ‘dispossessed,’ ‘thrust out,’ and so on. In fact, often the ‘drive out’ language is juxtaposed with the language of ‘destroy.’ Taken literally, these pictures are inconsistent. If I stated that I had driven an intruder from my house, one would not assume the intruder was dead in my lounge. Similarly, if I said I had killed an intruder, one would not normally think this meant the intruder had fled. The Hebrew confirms this; the language of driving out and casting out is used elsewhere to refer to Adam and Eve being driven from Eden (Gen. 3:24), Cain being driven into the wilderness (Gen. 4:14), and David being driven out by Saul (I Sam. 26:19). All are cases where the meaning precludes something being literally destroyed.” (pp.268-269)

Eighteen: “Christianity and Slavery” (Glenn Sunshine)

As per Lewis Tappan and his brother Arthur were legendary evangelical businessmen with social consciences. After reading a biography about the English evangelical Christian abolitionist William Wilberforce, Lewis launched himself into defending African Americans and abolishing slavery. He founded over 200 churches dedicated to equal rights for African American. The brothers were the primary fundraisers for the defense of the African slaves who went on trial in Brooklyn after mutinying on the ship La Amistad in 1839. Portrait of Lewis Tappan. The underground rail road. William Still. 1872. Slavery pamphlet collection. Brooklyn Historical Society.

“[I]t is true that there were instructions for dealing with slavery as a fact of life in the Roman Empire. but the actual significance of the New Testament teaching on slavery and its impact on the early church is rarely appreciated. First, although a number of Pauline epistles and I Peter instruct slaves to be obedient to their masters, they also tell masters to treat their slaves with dignity and respect, in essence recognizing their humanity. Even more radical was Paul’s insistence on the spiritual and moral equality of all people since in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28). It is hard for us to appreciate how remarkable this teaching was in the first century. Slaves were seen as being intrinsically inferior, as ‘living tools’ in Aristotle’s memorable phrase in the Nicomachean Ethics. The teachings of the New Testament could not be more different from the prevailing views of the wider culture….

The Quakers and the Evangelicals fought slavery for the same reasons as the Catholic Church: they were committed to the biblical ideas that humanity was made in the image of God, that all were descended from the same parents and so are equal, and that we all have equal rights given by God that no one can arbitrarily take away. While some secular Enlightenment thinkers, such as the atheist Diderot, also argued for the equality and right to freedom of all individuals, it was the Quakers and the Evangelicals, not Enlightenment figures, who led the fight [for] abolition, who created the awareness of the horrors of slavery among the general population, who led the boycott and the publicity campaign against the slave trade, and who worked persistently for years to see the fight through to the end. Slavery in the British Empire was abolished because of religious conviction, not Enlightenment rationalism.” (pp.290,297-298)

As in previous installments, DePoe et al. not only answer the challenges graciously and with aplomb, providing additional information and historico-cultural context, but they counter-challenge the other side to be fair, intellectually honest, and consistently rational in their own reasoning. I think skeptics and believers alike will find True Reason a helpful volume in assessing these issues and others like them in a thoughtful manner.


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