Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Internal vs External critique

I didn't write this, but I like it. It's quite useful for reference around here, and I encourage anyone who reads this blog and/or its comboxes to digest it.


First, a word about the difference between an internal and an external critique. An internal critique is when somebody like Singer makes an argument against the moral character of God and then evaluates whether or not the Bible or Christianity offers an adequate and coherent response. It would be like giving the following argument: 1) One of God’s commands is that we shall not murder, 2) yet God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, 3) therefore, God is inconsistent. This argument is an internal one because it stays within the bounds of Christianity in order to identify an inconsistency. Notice that points 1 and 2 are both taken from the Bible. An external critique, on the other hand, tests something about Christianity against something outside of it. It would be like giving the following argument: 1) God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, 2) no truly good God would ask a follower of his to sacrifice his own son, 3) therefore, God is not good. Do you see the difference? The first one tests Christianity on its own grounds. The second one introduces an external standard or concept and tests Christianity against that external standard or concept. In that second argument the external concept is that “no truly good God would ask a follower of his to sacrifice his own son.” But from where is the objector getting his information about what a good God would or would not, or should or should not, do? Not from the Bible, not from Christian theology, therefore it is an external critique. And once we train ourselves to spot the kind of critique that an objector is making, we won’t be fooled into accepting the objector’s external arguments against Christianity without a sound basis for his moral judgments.

Why bring any of this up? Simply to show that in almost every case where an objection is raised against God’s goodness, the objector fails to launch an adequate argument. For some reason the objector seems to believe that he or she can simply say “God is evil” without showing where they get their idea of what is good and evil to begin with. Actually, the reason is quite simple. It’s very easy to state that God is evil without having to qualify that value judgment. What is much harder, on the other hand, is to say that God is evil and argue for that conclusion from a secular system of ethics. The reason being that no secular system of ethics can ever get off the ground. What ends up happening is the objector resorts to borrowing the Christian point of view in order to argue against the Christian point of view. But there’s a twist — the objector inserts his own definitions into his arguments from the backdoor. Let me explain.

One of the most common blunders that objectors make when they argue against God is they question God’s goodness using their own yardstick, their own understanding of what constitutes goodness – and then conclude that on account of God failing to meet their test that God is not good. But remember, the Bible doesn’t share their definition of goodness. So when they say something like “God is not good because there is suffering” — they’re substituting what they think “good” means apart from how Scripture defines it. As I’ve noted earlier, this is fine, it’s a valid argument, but not when the objector makes it seem like he’s exposing an inconsistency in God or Scripture. All the objector is doing is showing that his or her definition of goodness is different than the Bible’s.

(HT: Triablogue)

Related post

22 comments:

Paul C said...

All the objector is doing is showing that his or her definition of goodness is different than the Bible’s.

You have clearly demonstrated that the Bible does not have any definition of "goodness", since the only moral value you recognise is obedience. In addition this fails to address the Euthyphro argument, and so it fails on two counts.

Keep trying, though. Eventually you'll be able to prove that God would never order you to kill your child, unless God orders you to kill your child; at which point it will magically transform from being "bad" into being "good", neither of which has any meaning for you.

Gamelot said...

I think what a lot of people are going to have a hard time grasping is that when you say

And once we train ourselves to spot the kind of critique that an objector is making, we won’t be fooled into accepting the objector’s external arguments against Christianity without a sound basis for his moral judgments.

you mean that entirely and only for a Christian. For a person not yet a Christian, they have to use whatever objective lens they have to view it, because we each approach issues initially from our own personal experiences. However, once a person becomes a Christian and accepts the Bible as infallible, then that person can begin to frame arguments completely within the framework of that Bible.

Rhology said...

Gamelot,
I agree completely. Shoot, I'm years into this mode of thinking and it's still hard to wrap my mind around it sometimes. It takes alot of practice to unlearn what I've learned.

Part of the problem for the non-monotheist is that his presuppositions can't provide an objective lens, but perhaps that's a bit of a side issue here.

NAL said...

Berny:
... they’re substituting what they think “good” means apart from how Scripture defines it.

Apart from how someone interprets Scripture. An objective definition of "goodness" must, by necessity, be free from interpretation.

When theists in the North interpret the Bible and claim that slavery is immoral, while theists in the South interpret the Bible and claim that slavery is not immoral, the claim of Biblical objective morality is rendered absurd.

Rhology said...

I interpret your comment to mean that you have socks made of popcorn.

Now your comment is absurd and has no objective meaning.

NAL said...

Maybe that's why I put my foot in my mouth so often. :)

NAL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NAL said...

Rho:
Now your comment is absurd and has no objective meaning.

Of course it doesn't. My comment has no objective meaning because it must be interpreted just like all other writings.

Rhology said...

Haha nice.

All things have to be interpreted, of course, but there are right interps and wrong interps. An example of a wrong interp of your comment would be that your socks are made of popcorn. A wrong example of Bible interp would be that the slavery in the Southern US was justified just b/c the OT provided for slavery (more like indentured servitude) and the NT didn't concern itself with crusading for the destruction of the massive slave establishment in 1C Rome.

NAL said...

Rho:
All things have to be interpreted, of course, but there are right interps and wrong interps.

On what objective basis does one determine which interpretation is right and which is wrong?

Rhology said...

Here.

Now, your turn to answer your very same question about, say, your comments in this combox.

NAL said...

Rho:
There's no good mechanism (beyond I said so ...) to distinguish between what is true and what is false in this tremendously wide scope of possibility of interpretations.

No objective mechanism. Only subjective interpretations. Nothing beyond Rho's personal interpretation.

So when objectors "question God’s goodness using their own yardstick", they should use Rho's yardstick instead?

Rhology said...

NAL,

What is the link to that quotation?
Post the wider context. You have snipped a few sentences out of an argument for precisely the opposite of what you have claimed here that I meant.

Your intellectual dishonesty is blinding. I am sitting here slack-jawed at your audacity.


To quote you...
NAL said:
"I...absolutely...believe...in...Jesus... Christ...as...Savior."


Wow, praise the Lord!

Astounding.

NAL said...

Rho:
What is the link to that quotation?

The same link in your previous comment.

As for context, you talk about an infinite regress of infallible interpreters. Then you talk about allegorical interpretations. (I assume that EO stands for Eastern Orthodox.)

The "interpretations", in the part I quoted, sure seems to refer to interpretations of Scripture.

Rhology said...

The "tremendously wide scope of possibility of interpretations" refers to what comes out of the alternative and competing interpretive system, namely the allegorical method, which was proposed by one of my opponents in the post(s) leading up to the linked-to post.


Here's the context.

5) Another problem is that there is not necessarily any reason within EOdox Tradition to take the psgs that allegedly direct me to submit to the EOC as infall interper as a command. Rather, as demonstrated here by Lucian, there are a few possibilities:
a. I could go off into flights of allegorical fancy. No, Peter is not LITERALLY given the keys to the kingdom of heaven in Matt 16. Jesus changes Peter's name from bending reed (Simon) to Peter (rock), symbolising how the Jewish people would become no longer pliable to what the Lord said back in the days of Nehemiah and Ezra, and now they would be hardened in heart against the Messiah, and they would open the door to heaven for the Gentiles to come in.
b. I could easily, in my flight of fancy, contradict EO Tradition.
c. There's no good mechanism (beyond I said so b/c my bishop said so b/c The Church® said so) to distinguish between what is true and what is false in this tremendously wide scope of possibility of interpretations.
d. Why can't I just allegorise the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ as well? Don't talk to me about context or 1 Corinthians 15. No, I'm spiritualising the text here. (Do I sound like John Shelby Spong yet?)


It's a little sophisticated, I admit, b/c I used a little sarcasm, a little irony, a little argumentum ad absurdum. Seriously, you need to take context into account before you start throwing around quotations of people. One can only hope you restrict such sloppy and disingenuous practices to commenting on others' blogs rather than consistently doing so on your own blog and even your workplace.

Edward said...

I like the OP. It's always been something of a mystery to me that atheists want to judge God when the very foundation of their judgment is what they learned from God. But I think Christians often do the same thing when they argue that God is good and expect that to mean what they consider "good" to be. God is good, because whatever God does must be looked at as good. That's really the end of it. In a sense it doesn't make any sense to judge God at all--one way or the other.

Paul C said...

A wrong example of Bible interp would be that the slavery in the Southern US was justified just b/c the OT provided for slavery

Exactly. Yet a lot of people were absolutely convinced that their interpretation was correct, which demonstrates that humans can make grave errors in interpreting the bible without realising it.

You are human. Therefore you can make grave errors in interpreting the bible without realising it.

Draw your own conclusions.

NAL said...

Rho:
The "tremendously wide scope of possibility of interpretations" refers to what comes out of the alternative and competing interpretive system, namely the allegorical method ...

My apologies for implying that your quote was intended to apply to the entire set of possible Scriptural interpretations. It is apparent, now, that you meant the quote to apply only to a subset of Scriptural interpretations.

However, the quote is relevant to all subsets of Scriptural interpretation. There is still no objective mechanism to distinguish between what is true and what is false, since everyone uses the GH method virtually all of the time while reading virtually anything.

Rhology said...

Edward said...
I like the OP.

You know what? I feel like I should know this, but I'm coming up blank on "OP". What is it?

Rhology = doofus

Paul C said:
Yet a lot of people were absolutely convinced that their interpretation was correct, which demonstrates that humans can make grave errors in interpreting the bible without realising it.

Agreed, absolutely. It merely falls on the disputant to DEMONSTRATE such.

Draw your own conclusions.

How about you make an argument?


NAL said:
It is apparent, now, that you meant the quote to apply only to a subset of Scriptural interpretations.

More specifically, to a subset of interpretive strategies.


My apologies

Apology accepted. Thank you for that.


the quote is relevant to all subsets of Scriptural interpretation.

OK, given that there is no such thing as the Objective Exegesis Machine and that humans are not robots but rather often subject to our own passions, whims, and desires, you're kind of right. Yet this cannot be taken to an extreme, which is what the "popcorn socks" comment illustrates. There are unquestionably wrong ways to interpret something.
The goal is to discover authorial intent. It's not an exact science, but it's far more objective than you're giving it credit for. You'll allow that possibility for every other text including this blogpost, but you're not inclined to do so for interping the Bible, b/c it suits your purposes in this argument. It's special pleading.

Paul C said...

How about you make an argument?

People frequently believe in things based on little to no evidence, religious beliefs being the most obvious example. Anybody who recognises this but refuses to apply it to themselves is living in idiot heaven.

The Thinker said...

The problem with Christian theists is that they argue that god defines goodness. But if god defines goodness, and god can do pretty much whatever he wants (command genocide, human sacrifice, the execution of homosexuals etc) then how can we even pin down that Yahweh is indeed good? It seems meaningless to say god is good if he can do whatever he wants and it becomes good by definition. Something good has to be good for a reason, because it's a value judgement. Furthermore, god breaks his own standards of goodness all the time.

Defining god as the source of “good” is mere theological wordplay. It doesn't demonstrate that “good” cannot exist independently of god. Even if goodness is an essential property of god, it is a property that can apply to other things independently of god’s existence. Just think of how being hot is an essential property of fire – fire must be hot, it cannot be cold. But “hot” can apply to many other things independently of fire. For example, microwaves cause things to be hot and so does friction.

Rhology said...

But if god defines goodness, and god can do pretty much whatever he wants (command genocide, human sacrifice, the execution of homosexuals etc) then how can we even pin down that Yahweh is indeed good?

We don't "pin it down". We RECOGNISE that unless He defines goodness, we have no idea what goodness actually is.


It seems meaningless to say god is good if he can do whatever he wants and it becomes good by definition.

Why does it seem meaningless?


Something good has to be good for a reason, because it's a value judgement.

This is just your pontification.
However, I agree with it anyway. And stuff is good if it glorifies God. That's the purpose.


It doesn't demonstrate that “good” cannot exist independently of god.

I didn't claim that it demonstrates it. I demonstrate it differently.


But “hot” can apply to many other things independently of fire. For example, microwaves cause things to be hot and so does friction.

I don't see the relevance.