The Tentative Apologist
8/15/10 at 09:52 PM 0 Comments

The Christian Delusion, Paul Tobin, reasoned faith and inspiration

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It's been awhile since I blogged with any regularity and even longer since I last reviewed an essay from John Loftus' edited volume The Christian Delusion. But I'm going to finish what I started here, although I'm going to take the pace up a notch from earlier reviews. From now on each essay gets only one blog post. Sorry folks, but that's the way it's gotta be.

The last time out I reviewed Edward Babinski's essay. While he did write a response, I didn't find it addressing the central issues I raised and so I didn't bother with a reply. But all is well and good because Paul Tobin's essay "The Bible and Modern Scholarship" argues in the same basic way as Babinski so a response to one counts as a rebuttal to the other.

Tobin provides a helpful overview of his argument in the first paragraph which I will cite here in full.

Here dear reader beginneth a 'Taste of Tobin'

Most Christians claim they have a reasoned faith. This faith claim is based on the Bible being the word of God in some meaningful sense. But modern scholarship has shown us that the canonical Bible:

  1. is inconsistent with itself,
  2. is not supported by archaeology,
  3. contains fairy tales,
  4. contains failed prophecies, and
  5. contains many forgeries.

Given all this, the Bible cannot be considered an inspired--'God breathed'--document. Rather it seems to be written by a superstitious people who were creating God in their own image, as Ludwig Feuerbach charged. Therefore Christianity is not a reasoned faith. It cannot stand up to critical scrutiny.

"Holy fivefold argument Batman!"

From this introduction Tobin's essay then proceeds to unpack these five points.

So what to think? Let me tell you what I think. I think of it as a bed and breakfast sitting out over the water on several large pillars. The house may have marble countertops and brass fixtures. But if the foundations are rotten then you better find your lodgings on shore.

Alas, the foundations of Tobin's argument are indeed rotten. Let me say a few words about two pillars.

The First Rotting Pillar: What is "A Reasoned faith"?

Tobin argues that Christians don't have a "reasoned faith" but he doesn't explain what this term even means so it is difficult to know if he is correct in his judgment. Heck, I'm not even sure Tobin knows what he means.

Does he mean that Christians don't actually use discursive reasoning to arrive at their beliefs about the Bible and its inspiration? If that's what he means then his argument is false. Many do. Others like myself don't believe that discursive reasoning is required to believe the Bible is inspired, but one is nonetheless obliged to respond to defeaters to that claim. So surely this cannot be what Tobin means.

Maybe what he really means is that the Christian faith is not a REASONABLE faith. I.e. it is irrational to believe that the Bible is inspired based on what Tobin presents in his essay.

But this begs an important question: what does it mean to say that the Bible is inspired?

The Second Rotting Pillar: Inspiration

Tobin claims that "the Bible cannot be considered an inspired--'God breathed'--document." For him to make this claim he must (a) provide a definition of inspiration, (b) demonstrate how this specific defintion cannot be reconciled with the alleged problems he has identified and (c) demonstrate that there are no other defensible defintions of inspiration which avoid these problems.

Throughout the essay he seems to assume some particular understanding of inspiration but he never clearly articulates it.Only when he gets to the addendum and engages some "liberal" views of the Bible (what is a "liberal" by the way?) does he even adumbrate the question of how inspiration ought to be defined.

This is, frankly speaking, a real bummer. Without a clear definition of inspiration which is then defended as the only viable definition, Tobin cannot even, as the teenagers used to say, get to first base! Poor Paul Tobin!

Here's but one possibility. Both Nicholas Wolterstorff and William Lane Craig have argued that the Bible consists of human documents which have been divinely appropriated into a canon which is then authoritative for the community of faith so long as it is interpreted correctly. That is a very plausible view of inspiration. So what's the problem?

Consider an example. Tobin talks about "forgeries" in the Bible, what New Testament scholars call pseudopigraphy. To call them forgeries is about as blunt as calling a polygamist living in sub-Saharan Africa an "adulterer". Doesn't Tobin have any sensitivity when it comes to the time and place in which a text is written? Alas, it would seem not.

So let's say that 2 Peter is pseudopigraphic – it was not written by Peter but rather by someone emulating his style (rather unsuccessfully it must be said) and claiming his authority. Tobin's argument presumably would be that God cannot appropriate a pseudopigraphic text, that is, he cannot include it within a canon of literature that through the providential course of history will come to be recognized as authoritative in matters of faith and action by a specific community of faith.

Why not Mr. Tobin? What's the problem? Is it okay for a great musical composer to use a little dissonance? Is it okay for a famous author to use ambiguity? For a beloved poet to use irony? For a divine being to use pseudopigraphy? To all of the above I say, why not?

No, I don't have head lice. I'm just puzzled

Tobin's argument (or rather lack of argument) left me scratching my head so much that people are starting to think I've got head lice. The problem, I think, is that he writes as if he's addressing the local skeptic's club where everybody already accepts his conclusion so it doesn't matter so much how he gets there. But for the rest of us, he needs to take the time to unpack each step or his whole argument is like my neighbor's rusty old Trans-Am: it ain't going anywhere.

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