N.T. Wrong is also alive!

Sorry for a long break in my activity here. My life has been getting busy in directions not connected with blogging. This also means that I have stopped keeping up with developments on the Todd Bentley story.

There has been one interesting area of ongoing activity on this blog: the comment thread on my post Jesus is alive! Last year the pseudonymous pseudo-bishop N.T. Wrong amused the biblioblog world for several months with his blog, and he was interviewed by Jim West as Blogger of the Month for February 2009.  But then in that same month his blog abruptly disappeared, or more precisely became “protected” and so inaccessible.

At the time Wrong’s resurrection or parousia was predicted. What bibliobloggers have predicted as in a glass darkly, I now openly proclaim to you: N.T. Wrong is alive! He has appeared here at Gentle Wisdom, not just once but in no less than six comments. True to form and showing that this really is the Wrong we know and love, he has been arguing against my contention that Jesus is alive. But at least he has demonstrated one thing: that N.T. Wrong is alive.

By the way, for anyone still interested in his identity, Wrong is still using a UK e-mail address, but is currently commenting from an IP address neither in Illinois nor in Australia, as previously reported, but in Los Angeles.

The substance of my conversation with Wrong has been interesting. I started by suggesting that the only people who continued to deny the resurrection of Jesus, after examining the evidence thoroughly, were those who held philosophical presuppositions that resurrection was impossible. Wrong objected to this, claiming that he had no such presuppositions but still rejected the resurrection. The grounds he gave for doing so were that he rejected the gospel accounts of the resurrection as much later additions.

At this point I shifted my position a little. I allowed that while he might not personally presuppose that the resurrection could not happen he was relying on the work of scholars, such as those of the Jesus Seminar, who base their rejection of the gospel accounts on this very presupposition. At first Wrong seemed to accept this. But then he objected when I wrote:

I do not accept that there are good arguments for the general unreliability of the gospel traditions, only weak arguments like those of the Jesus Seminar which are based on presuppositions that miracles cannot happen.

Wrong objected to this, citing as evidence a claim that he himself does not rely on presuppositions. Wrong! Or possibly not. Here is my latest, somewhat ironic, comment on this claim to be free of presuppositions:

N.T., I don’t say that you personally rely on presuppositions. But I do say you give credence to arguments for the unreliability of the gospel accounts which depend on the work of people with presuppositions. Well, of course we all have presuppositions and often rely on them, except of course for one honourable exception being yourself. I suppose a made-up online persona might just be able to be free from what is common to all humanity, even our sinless Lord Jesus.

But since there is no one else whose arguments you can trust, I presume you do all your work from primary sources and first principles. I look forward to your presupposition-free (and bibliography-free) magnum opus proving the unreliability of the gospels and the falsity of the resurrection accounts. Until I read and am convinced I will continue to believe in the gospels and the resurrection.

12 thoughts on “N.T. Wrong is also alive!

  1. Aaargggh – when will we be rid of absurdly apologetic arguments about ‘presuppositions’?

    In the first place, I just noted that I have no presupposition about the impossibility of miracles. For some reason you have gleefully misread this as a statement that I have no presuppositions, period, which is as patently ridiculous as your misguided attempt at a straw man satire.

    Secondly, your argument depends on conclusions being determined by presuppositions, rather than influenced by them. To the contrary, I am of the opinion that conclusions are a complex mixture of ever-changing points of view, on one hand, and reality on the other. These are always already mixed up and inseparable. But as conclusions are also influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by facts, the apologetic argument from presuppositions is bankrupt.

    But, as you’re currently enamoured with this apologetic tactic, I’ll take the time to introduce you to the work of William Bartley.

    Many scholars who engage in heavily theological interpretations of the Bible will, at some stage, come up with a tu quoque defence for defending their theological bias. The tu quoque defence begins by pointing out that all rational argumentation is ultimately ungrounded, and that all arguers have presuppositions which must be based on their (biased) preferences. This is true. But the apologetic use of the tu quoque defence involves the additional step of arguing that the theological bias is therefore as warranted as any other. This is more than highly questionable. By far the most developed exposé of the “But you’re biased, too!” defence of theological interpretation is by William Bartley, in The Retreat to Commitment (rev. edn. 1984).

    Bartley describes the argument made, by theologians, which is based on the limits of rationality:

    “This argument is that the most important ideas—presuppositions, first principles–cannot be justified or criticized, and are hence beyond rational evaluation; moreover, that all individuals must, for logical reasons, hold such ideas; and that, as a consequence, anyone has a sound excuse for being uncritically committed to some such first principle or dogma. This argument, itself an idea about rational argumentation, has the effect of protecting certain other ideas from rational argumentation by removing them from competition. In effect, the argument decrees that our most fundamental ideas are not and need not be in argumentative competition with other ideas (i.e., are beyond criticism) due to an intrinsic logical feature of argumentation.” (xx)

    If the argument is accepted, the resulting problem is relativism:

    “[The problem is] whether some form of relativism is inescapable because rationality is so limited, logically as well as practically, that the choice between ultimately competing religious, moral, and philosophical positions is, in the last resort, arbitrary. For example, is an individual’s decision to become a rationalist—even from a rationalist point of view—any less subjective, relative, arbitrary, rational than an individual’s decision to become a Christian?” (xxv)

    And when used by Protestant apologists, such as Karl Barth, it becomes a defence of fideism:

    “By resorting to the argument about the limits of justification and criticism and of rationality, Protestantism in a sense gives up the battle; it removes its basic principles from the competitive arena, and engages in a sort of intellectual counterpart of economic protectionism. This is sufficient, as we shall see, to render it an ideology.” (xxii)

    “wherever used, it [this argument] provides the custodians of ideas with a rational excuse that permits them to protect their own principles from competition—whether these be claimed to be the principles of science (for there are also many ideologists of science), or political principles, or whatever. This argument transforms whatever it touches into pseudo-science and ideology.” (xxii-xxiii)

    “the Christian commitment of many Protestants depends upon the assumption that it [the problem of the limits of rationality] cannot be solved. For the argument provides a rational excuse for irrational commitment.” (72)

    “The theologian makes an irrational commitment to Christ; he admits it—he glories in it. But the rationalist has made an equally irrational commitment to reason—despite his insolent claim to “hold no dogma sacrosanct”. The theologian, it appears, is intellectually more honest-indeed, even more rational-than the rationalist.” (77)

    Bartley concludes that the retreat to commitment is the only serious apologetic argument able to be made for Christian theology today:

    “The only serious argument for Christian commitment today concerns the problem of the limits of rationality. This is the argument that both Kierkegaard and Barth relied upon.” (72)

    Bartley’s own solution is essentially Popperian. Bartley gives up the attempt to positively justify one’s position, on the recognition that the most one can do is to provide falsification of positions. That is, full positive justification of a particular interpretation is always out of reach. However, it is quite likely that some interpretations will turn out to be better than others in the light of critical discussion and tests. At the very least, it is possible to evaluate and rank interpretations according to their success in explaining all the evidence.

    Bartley’s answer gives a good reply to those apologists who rely on the ultimate groundlessness of knowledge, so as to defend their fideism. I’m not so sure that it deals with the subjectivity involved in selecting and evaluating data, but the critical process to which this is subjected means that the relativistic argument is itself relativised. All up, Bartley provides a fine and detailed examination of the apologetic move of Barth and others, in which they appeal to the relativity of knowledge in order to make an argument–not for relativism, but–for fideism.

  2. And – by the way – thank you for pointing out that the rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated.

    Indeed, I have a zest for life that is captured by the vivacious and intense poetry of David Ker (of which, I am a regular reader):

    David Ker, “Cyber-Psalm 69”:
    “blow them til you’re breathless and sticky”

    What an evocative line! Thanks David, from us all.


    P.S. I emphatically deny I am in L.A.

  3. N.T., I’m glad you appreciated the satire. But let’s be serious now.

    Thank you for agreeing with me that “that all arguers have presuppositions which must be based on their (biased) preferences. This is true.” Indeed, and that was my main point. It is true of you, although I can only guess what your presuppositions are – and there may be complications here if your online persona is supposed to have different presuppositions from the real author of your comment, e.g. if you are not a real liberal but a fundamentalist’s caricature of a liberal. It is also true of the Jesus Seminar scholars who, if I am not mistaken, openly state their presupposition that gospel accounts of miracles cannot be true.

    Thank you for introducing me to Bartley’s work. I’m not sure of its relevance, for I am not arguing for fideism and not claiming for myself “a sound excuse for being uncritically committed to some such first principle or dogma”. I am simply appealing to people like yourself to examine the evidence for the resurrection without relying on the work of those who presuppose its falsity. But your quote from page 77 seems to fit this discussion, with you the one making something rather like an “insolent claim to “hold no dogma sacrosanct””.

  4. I never cease to be amazed by the efforts that some people go through to defame the name of Jesus Christ the messiah! Blessed be His glorious name forever and ever! May he come back quickly to rule with a rod of iron and silence all of His detractors. The spirit and the bride say come!

  5. Thank you, Spasm Dada. I’m not sure that I am actually longing for people like N.T. Wrong silenced because it is quite fun to argue with them. But the time will come when they see the truth about the risen Christ and will be eternally lost at least for words.

  6. That obviously came off wrong. I want Jesus here. No one will be able to deny Him when He is here. I want His leadership. I want His direction. I want all of the unbelievers to love Him. I know lost will flock to Him when He is exalted.

  7. Peter,

    Thanks for the gentle correction on my own blog regarding Isa 53:1. I realized last night, after I checked the Hebrew but before I read your comment, that I had mistranslated the text. The correction is now on my blog.

  8. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom» Blog Archive » Top Three Blogs All Link Here

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