Category Archives: Culture

Credible Testimony

This is a follow-up of sorts to my earlier post.

After the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings last week, I encountered many comments to the effect that either Ford or Kavanaugh gave a “credible testimony.” (Some claimed that both did.) Consider these two statements:

(1) It’s credible that S is telling the truth.

(2) It’s credible that S is not lying.

It seems to me that many commentators on this depressing debacle are failing to properly distinguish (1) and (2). When they say that so-and-so’s testimony was credible, it’s hard to tell whether they mean (1) or (2). Perhaps they think (1) and (2) are equivalent. But as I pointed out earlier, that’s not the case. It’s possible to speak falsely without lying. What (2) is really equivalent to is:

(1′) It’s credible that S believes he/she is telling the truth.

But of course, (1′) doesn’t entail (1). Furthermore, the evidential burden of (1) can be considerably higher than that of (1′). It doesn’t take much to justifiably conclude that someone believes what they’re saying is true; it often takes a lot more to justifiably conclude that what they’re saying is actually true.

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A Singer-Songwriter You Should Know About

I’d never heard of Ginny Owens before this summer. That probably tells you more about me than her, because she’s been performing for two decades, she’s sold over a million records, she’s won three Dove awards, her music has been featured on television, and she’s notable enough to have a Wikipedia page.

If you’re not already familiar with her work, check it out. It’s really good, both musically and lyrically. I’m no critic, but I’d put her up there with any artist in the Billboard Hot 100. Her most recent album, Love Be the Loudest, is superb. Finding talented Christian artists with cross-generational appeal is rare, but for the last two weeks my daughters have been demanding I play that album every time we drive somewhere! (Even my 5-year-old son digs it, despite the fact it doesn’t feature Ninjago or dinosaurs.) Give it a listen and you’ll soon be hooked.

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A Quick Note on the Kavanaugh Accusation

Liar Liar“Either he’s lying or she is.”

I’ve come across some version of this statement in several online articles this past week. It seems to be a common point of view among those who withhold judgment (for now) on whose story is correct. But it’s a false dichotomy as it stands.

If two people are making conflicting claims, it doesn’t follow that one of them is lying. It follows only that (at least) one of them is making a false claim. It’s entirely possible to make a false claim without lying. In fact, most of us do it unwittingly on a daily basis. For example, a person can be sincerely mistaken: they claim p because they believe p, even though it turns out that p is false. (There’s also the separate question of whether their mistake is a morally culpable one; a person can be sincerely mistaken yet still guilty of some kind of intellectual negligence.)

Unfortunately it has become commonplace today in public discourse to conflate lying and speaking falsely, especially in politics. Politician A makes a claim which turns out to be false; A is then immediately branded a ‘liar’ by Politician B and all his followers. Well, perhaps A did lie, but the fact that he spoke falsely doesn’t prove it. You have to show that A knowingly spoke falsely or intended to deceive.

I remember during the Iraq War the chant of the “Stop the War” protesters: “Blair lied, people died!” Catchy, but fallacious. It does appear now that the Blair government published and acted on the basis of intelligence claims that turned out to be erroneous, but of course it doesn’t follow for a moment that the Prime Minister lied. That’s a much harder charge to establish.

Either Kavanaugh or his accuser is making some false claims. That’s a logical truism. But it’s a leap to conclude that one of them has to be lying. That’s a far trickier claim to establish. There’s a burden of proof to discharge. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that whoever is making the false claims is more likely to be sincerely mistaken than lying — I don’t know nearly enough about the situation to draw that conclusion — but I do think a principle of charity needs to be applied, all else being equal. If you can explain the facts without having to impute evil intentions to someone, you should do so. That’s simply an application of the Golden Rule. (Of course, if you have positive evidence that someone is lying that’s another matter. I’d say that remains to be seen in this case.)

Wikiality

My students know that I have very mixed feelings about Wikipedia. On the one hand, it can be invaluable for quickly obtaining or checking uncontested facts about names, dates, locations, and sequences of events. It can also be a useful starting point for research; it often provides a serviceable orientation to a topic and can point you to some useful sources. Even so, Wikipedia can be desperately unreliable and biased when it comes to controversial issues and even some matters that shouldn’t be controversial. (I have a folder on my computer named ‘Wikidpedia’ where I collect particularly egregious examples.) It’s well known that the ‘community’ of Wikipedia editors is ideologically skewed compared to the general population, such that some topics simply cannot be represented in a balanced and responsible fashion (see here for one embarrassing example).

Anyway, I recently came across an almost laughable case of Bad Wikipedia. For reasons I don’t remember now, I found myself consulting the entry on ‘Reality’ (insert your own punchline here). Here’s how the article began:

Reality is all of physical existence, as opposed to that which is merely imaginary. It is the name for all of physical existence, but the word is also used in a declension to speak of parts of reality that include the cognitive idea of an individual “reality” (i.e. psychology), to a “situational reality,” or a “fictional reality.”

The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence, but this is simply the idea of giving names to smaller “realities,” and seems vague and academic without the idea of physical existence as the first “reality,” and the others being smaller parts.

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Exploring Islam Teaching Series

Exploring IslamLast year Ligonier Ministries invited me to work with them to produce a new teaching series on Islam. The final product, Exploring Islam, is now available.

Here’s the description from the DVD cover:

Speaking the Truth in Love

What do Muslims believe? With so much diversity in the Muslim world, it is common for people to hold uninformed opinions about Islam. In Exploring Islam, Dr. James Anderson prepares Christians to better witness to their Muslim neighbors with gentleness and respect, as he surveys the central tenets, history, and practices of the Islamic religion. This is a series to stir confidence in the gospel and equip you to speak the truth in love to the Muslims in your community.

The series consists of ten 23-minute presentations:

  1. Why Study Islam?
  2. The Basics of Islam
  3. The Prophet Muhammad
  4. An Introduction to the Qur’an
  5. The Teachings of the Qur’an
  6. Authority in Islam
  7. Diversity in Islam
  8. Christianity & Islam
  9. Contending for Christianity
  10. Sharing the Gospel with Muslims

The first in the series (“Why Study Islam?”) can be viewed for free on the product page.

Apparently the DVDs include Spanish dubbing and closed captioning.

The series should be useful for adult Sunday schools, small groups, campus ministries, church youth groups, and high-school classes. I’m convinced it’s more important than ever before that Christians understand the challenge of Islam and are equipped to engage with Muslims in a well-informed, gospel-centered way. I hope this series will be a helpful resource to that end.

On a personal note, it was a real pleasure to work with Ligonier on this series and to spend time with their team. Their hospitality and professionalism is second to none.

Christians Not Welcome?

“Oxford college bans ‘harmful’ Christian Union from freshers’ fair” is the headline for the following Telegraph report:

An Oxford College has banned the Christian Union from its freshers’ fair on the grounds that it would be “alienating” for students of other religions, and constitute a “micro-aggression”.

The organiser of Balliol’s fair argued Christianity’s historic use as “an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism” meant that students might feel “unwelcome” in their new college if the Christian Union had a stall.

Freddy Potts, vice-president of Balliol’s Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, said that if a representative from the Christian Union (CU) attended the fair, it could cause “potential harm” to freshers.

Mr Potts, writing on behalf of the JCR’s welfare committee, told the CU representative at Balliol, that their “sole concern is that the presence of the CU alone may alienate incoming students”.

[…]

“Historically, Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

He said that barring the Christian Union from the fair “may be a way of helping to avoid making any students feel initially unwelcome within Balliol”.

This is appalling and hypocritical on multiple levels; I’ll highlight only one. Note that the Christian Union is being excluded not because of anything specific to that organization, but because of supposed problems with Christianity. The very presence of representatives of the Christian faith at the freshers’ fair is deemed hazardous because it might ‘alienate’ new students and make them feel ‘unwelcome’.

Does it not occur to the JCR committee that some of these incoming students will be Christians, and that the exclusion of the Christian Union for the reasons they give might alienate those Christian students and make them “feel initially unwelcome”?

Just as intolerance is promoted in the name of tolerance, so exclusion is practiced in the name of inclusion. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of ‘secular spaces’!

Warfield Lectures: Anthropology & Transgenderism

Last October I had the great privilege of delivering the Fifth Annual B. B. Warfield Lectures at the invitation of Erskine Seminary and First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC. Edited versions of those two lectures have now been published in RTS’s online journal, Reformed Faith & Practice:

  1. What Are We? Three Views on Human Nature
  2. Transgenderism: A Christian Perspective

The first lecture is to some degree setup for the second, but each one is self-standing.

When Harry Wants To Be Called ‘Sally’

Transgender IconThe Nashville Statement was published this week, and the (over)reaction to it has been entirely predictable. It’s a fine summary of the biblical Christian position on human sexuality, and (while I might quibble with the wording here and there) I agree with all of its affirmations and denials. What the statement doesn’t do (by design) is answer all of the tricky questions that arise for Christians now living in a culture that by and large repudiates the claims of the Nashville Statement. Truth notwithstanding, the tide is flooding the plain and we’ll soon be up to our necks.

It’s not unfair to say that the Nashville Statement answers easy questions. What does the Bible actually say about natural sexual distinctions and proper sexual relationships? The harder questions concern matters of Christian practice as we engage with the shifting culture around us and grapple with the impact it has on the lives of real people.

I’ve given several presentations on the topic of transgenderism over the last two years, one of which will be published as an article in the forthcoming issue of RTS’s journal, Reformed Faith & Practice. On every occasion, one particular question has been asked during the Q&A session:

How should we deal with people who claim to be transgender and ask us to use different names and pronouns to refer to them, which they claim correctly reflect their true ‘gender identity’?

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T. S. Eliot on Reading for Amusement

Some insight from Eliot’s essay “Religion and Literature” (1935):

Now what we get, as we gradually grow up and read more and more, and read a greater diversity of authors, is a variety of views of life. But what people commonly assume, I suspect, is that we gain this experience of other men’s views of life only by “improving reading.” This, it is supposed, is a reward we get by applying ourselves to Shakespeare, and Dante, and Goethe, and Emerson, and Carlyle, and dozens of other respectable writers. The rest of our reading for amusement is merely killing time. But I incline to come to the alarming conclusion that it is just the literature that we read for “amusement,” or “purely for pleasure” that may have the greatest and least suspected influence upon us. It is the literature which we read with the least effort that can have the easiest and most insidious influence upon us. Hence it is that the influence of popular novelists, and of popular plays of contemporary life, requires to be scrutinized most closely. And it is chiefly contemporary literature that the majority of people ever read in this attitude of “purely for pleasure,” of pure passivity.

The relation to my subject of what I have been saying should now be a little more apparent. Though we may read literature merely for pleasure, of “entertainment” or of “aesthetic enjoyment,” this reading never affects simply a sort of special sense: it affects our moral and religious existence. And I say that while individual modern writers of eminence can be improving, contemporary literature as a whole tends to be degrading. And that even the effect of the better writers, in an age like ours, may be degrading to some readers; for we must remember that what a writer does to people is not necessarily what he intends to do. It may be only what people are capable of having done to them. People exercise an unconscious selection in being influenced. A writer like D. H. Lawrence may be in his effect either beneficial or pernicious. I am not sure that I have not had some pernicious influence myself.

One can only imagine what Eliot would have concluded about the influence of movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos on our “moral and religious existence.”

Thinking Biblically About Transgenderism

A short lunchtime presentation to the RTS Charlotte students, followed by Q&A.