Fuzzy logic

I recently listened to episodes 50 and 52 of one of my favorite podcasts, Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot, by Luke Muehlhauser.

The guests on these podcasts were theologians David Basinger and Steve Porter, respectively. Although these were intelligent, friendly people, their arguments carried a whiff of vagueness and subjectivity that seems to burden much of Christian apologetics. Perhaps I am biased toward non-theist, naturalist philosophers, who base their arguments more on evidence than on intuition.

Steve Porter especially, in his defense of penal substitution as a model for atonement, relies on rather wobbly intuitions about when it is reasonable for an innocent person to bear the punishment for another’s wrong doing. Roughly formulated hypotheses like these are certainly good starting points: they help one to formulate tests that will properly flesh out and explore the idea. However, they should not be mistaken for final arguments.

I’d like to give apologists the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are unaware of the level of rigor required to support a hypothesis. The alternatives are not flattering: vagueness could arise because apologists do not take their work seriously enough, or because they know that greater rigor threatens their arguments with collapse. Sometimes I feel that the lack of seriousness is at play: I’ve heard theologians admit, on a number of occasions, that certain counter-arguments to their central idea are, indeed, valid. However, instead of stopping to modify their idea in response, they simply move on as if no serious objection had been raised.

Whatever the explanation, I cannot shake the feeling that apologists are too strongly influenced by their personal beliefs and preferences to subject their ideas to proper objective scrutiny. The very concept of apologetics presupposes the promotion of a particular idea, not the promotion of truth. If truth were paramount, apologists would not only subject their arguments to the most rigorous testing possible, but would instantly discard them if they failed such testing.

The situation conjures up a rather odd picture in my mind. It seems to me that apologists are trapped in a sort of sandbox. They can build small castles and moats in their relatively limited space, but they never have access to anything more. Those who follow a purer scientific approach however, have unlimited access to miles and miles of sandy beaches, open to exploration, discovery, and creativity. It makes life in the sandbox seem somewhat futile, and perhaps a little desperate.

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