The Tentative Apologist
6/17/10 at 12:30 AM 0 Comments

The Tentative Apologist receives a stern reprimand

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Early in the ongoing saga of my reviews of The Christian Delusion (that is, way back a week ago) I tackled the essay "The Cultures of Christianity" by David Eller. (See here). Dr. Eller has now responded. (See here). And, well, his response feels a bit like getting shushed by an aristocrat during a horse race at the Kentucky downs: in other words, very snooty but not much substance.

Clearly I am not on Dr. Eller's Christmas card list. Here is how he begins his review:

"As an obvious amateur reviewer, Randal Rauser can perhaps be forgiven for his lack of knowledge of several subjects in the review."

Okey dokey. Perhaps we got off on the wrong foot because I accused Dr. Eller of forgetting to include an argument in his chapter. Did he include an argument in his rebuttal? We'll get to that in a moment.

But first note an aside. Eller comments: "Honest theist philosophers have admitted that the ‘arguments' for god(s) are inconclusive at best and futile at worst." Ahh, score 1 for the aristocrat. Honest philosophers have given up on arguments for God. (And honorable fans of horse racing do not wear foam hats.)

Well okay, I don't agree with Eller's assessment of all arguments for God's existence so I guess I'm dishonest. Unfortunately I don't think that'll work in the debating club.

Then things take a rather strange turn. Eller camps for a time on the ontological argument, stating that Kant dealt with it two centuries ago. Well I have to say, denying the ontological argument today because of Kant's 200 year old arguments is like denying the existence of Glacial Lake Missoula because Charles Lyell was a uniformitarian.

Dude, that's just embarrassing.

If Eller was familiar with philosophy, he would know that there are a number of contemporary ontological arguments, Hartshorne's, Malcolm's and Plantinga's among them. (Footnote: Even if one conceded Kant's point that existence per se is not a predicate, necessary existence surely is, and that's the concern of contemporary ontological arguments.)

Eller also apparently didn't like the fact that I highlighted his silly and prejudicial reference to missionaries as "cunning". Thus he responded: "Rauser is clearly unfamiliar with the abundant literature on the history of missionization and conversion efforts."

No, not really, I teach church history and I have an undergraduate major in cultural anthropology. And sure, missionaries have messed up often enough, occasionally becoming imperialist pawns of state or corporate power, for instance. But does Eller regret the fact that missionaries worked to eradicate widow burning in India? Does he believe all missionaries are cunning? Aren't missionaries, like doctors, mechanics, lawyers and everybody else, a mixture of the good and the bad?

Next, Eller says: "Rauser also willfully fails to see the implications of my cultural argument."
Nice move. If somebody doesn't agree with you it is a "wilful failure." I'm surprised Eller didn't charge me with subordination.

Okay, now finally the argument that was missing the first time around. Eller writes: "If we accept, then, that Christianity is cultural too, the only real question is, Is Christianity cultural ONLY?"

I'm not sure what "cultural ONLY?" means but I take it he means "not true".

Next, Eller says: "If theists accept the idea that their religion is cultural, then it is their burden to prove that it is something MORE than culture."

Again, I'm not sure what this means, but I take it that Eller means "If theists believe their religion is true then they have a burden to provide evidence that it is true."

And finally Eller concludes: "I hold that Christianity (and every other religion) is cultural through and through--that it holds no ‘truth' but merely cultural thinking."

So to sum up here's the death blow: if you believe Christianity is true you should provide some arguments to support its truth. Personally I'm not impressed with the arguments that I've seen so I don't think its true.

That's it. So I get scolded for bringing an airhorn to the horse race just because this other guy only has a wet firecracker.


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