Wednesday, March 18, 2015

John Lennox Hoist by His Own Petard


In this debate with Michael Shermer, John Lennox decries what he sees as shoddy scholarship by Richard Dawkins (at 1:02:23):

"He [Dawkins] was discussing the question and saying in his book, that the historical existence of Jesus is in dispute among scholars. The only authority he cited to prove his point was a professor --- that's what he said --- Professor G. A. Wells of London. He didn't tell us that Wells is a professor of German. He didn't contact any ancient historian, and therefore made a colossal faux pas in his book, and that undermines my confidence. Because, you see, ancient history is a discipline where we can check, and if people claim to be interested in evidence, then to do that kind of thing is simply inexcusable. That's the point I'm making."

(By the way, I don't know how Prof. Lennox knows with certainty that Dawkins "didn't contact any ancient historian".)

It's true that denying the historical existence of Jesus is a minority view, one that Wells himself has apparently retreated from. Of course, Wells is not wrong because he's a professor of German; logically, arguments should be judged on their merits, not on the qualifications of the person making them. But it is perfectly reasonable -- and we do it all the time -- to view with skepticism strong claims in area A made by a person qualified in area B. I am glad that Lennox is so devoted to the truth.

But now let's listen to Prof. Lennox again at 30:00:

"Prominent German thinker Jurgen Habermas, who calls himself a methodological atheist, says that Christianity and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy: the benchmarks of Western civilization. "To this day we have no other options: we continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."

This is a bogus quote, as I've documented before. I now repeat the relevant portions from that blog post of mine:

This quotation is phony, but is very popular among Christians.

Its origins have been carefully traced by Thomas Gregersen, who writes:

But this is a misquotation! The reference is an interview with Jürgen Habermas that Eduardo Mendieta made in 1999. It is published in English with the title "A Conversation About God and the World" in Habermas's book "Time of Transitions" (Polity Press, 2006).

What Habermas actually says in this interview is:

"Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an auonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk (p. 150f)."

The misquote rewrites Habermas's statement and changes its meaning:
(1) Habermas talks about the historical origin of egalitarian universalism - not the foundation of human rights today.
(2) Habermas mentions both Judaism and Christianity - not only Christianity.
(3) Habermas says that there is no alternative to this legacy ("Erbe" in German) - not that we have no alternative to Christianity.
[end of Gregersen]

If I may paraphrase the distinguished Professor Lennox:

"Because, you see, modern philosophy is a discipline where we can check, and if people claim to be interested in evidence, then to do that kind of thing is simply inexcusable. That's the point I'm making."

27 comments:

lukebarnes said...

"We continue to draw on the substance of this heritage" surely means that his point is not merely about historical origins.

I take Habermas to mean that egalitarian universalism (and consequences of human rights and such) historically grew out of Judeo-Christian ideals, and to this day this foundation has not been replaced. There is no alternative to the Judeo-Christian foundation of egalitarianism. If you want egalitarian universalism (and hence human rights and such), then you'll need to get it from Judeo-Christian ideals.

I have no idea whether that claim is correct, but Lennox's paraphrase doesn't seem obviously wrong.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Luke:

It is not a "paraphrase", but rather a claimed direct quote that is not a direct quote. Did you read the Gregersen page carefully?

Gingerbaker said...

" Because, you see, ancient history is a discipline where we can check..."

The historicity of Jesus would not survive proper historical investigation. Equating the dogma of Biblical scholars with the nonexistent consensus of actual historians (who really have never addressed the issue formally until, perhaps, Carrier) is a weasel tactic.

lukebarnes said...

I didn't read Gregersen. I'm just responding to the fuller quotation. I'll have a closer look.

Gingerbaker ... bollocks. According to Carrier, the "good" mythicists are himself, Robert Price, Earl Doherty, G. A. Wells, Thomas Thompson, and possibly Frank Zindler. (http://thoughtsphilosophyculture.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/why-jesus-mythicism-is-unconvincing.html)

Carrier: History PhD, not currently employed at a university.
Price: trained as a theologian, teaches philosophy and religion.
Earl Doherty: history undergrad
G. A. Wells: Professor of German, has since changed his mind about Jesus.
Thomas Thomson: Professor of theology.
Frank Zindler: Professor of biology and geology

One the other hand, you have all the scholars in all the ancient history departments in all the universities in all the world, about whom Bart Ehrman ("actual historian" and atheist") has said:

"Few of these mythicists are actually scholars trained in ancient history, religion, biblical studies or any cognate field, let alone in the ancient languages generally thought to matter for those who want to say something with any degree of authority about a Jewish teacher who (allegedly) lived in first-century Palestine. There are a couple of exceptions: of the hundreds -- thousands? -- of mythicists, two (to my knowledge) actually have Ph.D. credentials in relevant fields of study. But even taking these into account, there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world. And it is no wonder why. These views are so extreme and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide department of biology. ...

One may well choose to resonate with the concerns of our modern and post-modern cultural despisers of established religion (or not). But surely the best way to promote any such agenda is not to deny what virtually every sane historian on the planet -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you -- has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence.

Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bart-d-ehrman/did-jesus-exist_b_1349544.html

The Thought Criminal said...

I looked in on this latest post at the insistence of an atheist, elsewhere. The English translation you gave from that website is very different from the statement itself, in German.

Das Christendom ist für das normative Selbstverständnis der Moderne nicht nur eine Vorläufergestalt oder ein Katalysator gewesen. Der egalitäre Universalismus, aus dem die Ideen von Freiheit und solidarischem Zusammenleben, von autonomer Lebensführung und Emanzipation, von individueller Gewissensmoral, Menschenrechten und Demokratie entsprungen sind, ist unmittelbar ein Erbe der jüdischen Gerechtigkeits- und der christlichen Liebesethik. In der Substanz unverändert, ist dieses Erbe immer wieder kritisch angeeignet und neu interpretiert worden. Dazu gibt es bis heute keine Alternative. Auch angesichts der aktuellen Herausforderungen einer postnationalen Konstellation zehren wir nach wie vor von dieser Substanz. Alles andere ist postmodernes Gerede".

Jürgen Habermas - "Zeit der Übergänge" (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2001) p. 174f.

Which I would translate:

Christianity is not merely a predecessor or catalyst of the very concept of modernity. Egalitarianism, from which the ideas of freedom and social concord, autonomous life and emancipation of individual moral thought, human rights and democracy spring from the Jewish ethic of Justice and the Christian ethic of love. Unchanged in substance, this has been appropriated again and again and newly interpreted. For this purpose, there is still no alternative. This is even true now in a post-national world, we still eat of this substance. Everything else is just post modern babble.

I will point out that John Lennox is fluent enough in German to give the same fluent lectures he gives in English in German and, more impressive to me, can hold his own in unscripted interviews. Most of the atheists I've seen comment on this couldn't read Habermas in the original. I don't see any actual substantial difference between what he's quoted as saying and the original, given at the website you use.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I think there's a huge difference. Translators and translations may differ, but even in your version, there is nothing like the assertion that "Christianity and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy".

I would not say I am absolutely fluent in German, but I can hold my own.

Bert Brouwer said...

Anti-semitism is deeply routed in christianity, and not something for christians to be proud of.

The Thought Criminal said...

So can I, when Habermas was asked, in English about the alleged "misquotation" he didn't say that it had misrepresented what he said, though he cited a conversation he'd had with Pope Benedict XVI. Since he's been asked about this, I would like you to produce Habermas disavowing the quotation as given by Lennox.

In the German as given at the website you cite, it says "Dazu gibt es bis heute keine Alternative. Auch angesichts der aktuellen Herausforderungen einer postnationalen Konstellation zehren wir nach wie vor von dieser Substanz."

"Gibt es bis heute keine Alternative". "There is up to today, no Alternative" to the concept of justice in Judaism and the doctrine of love in Christianity that produces the sense of universal egalitarianism from which are derived the entire host of attributes that are the foundation of democracy and, in Habermas' analysis, which I agree with, any modernity that deserves serious consideration.


You can hear Lennox lecturing in German to a German university audience and, as I noted, even more impressively, fluently holding his own in spontaneous interviews in German. He far more than holds his own. Translation is hardly a uniform practice, but I can see no way to interpret what Habermas said so as to reduce the strength of his attribution of the precursors of egalitarian democracy and that significant, as opposed to superficial and ephemeral, modernity.

I think your atheist, anti-Christian framing colors your translation as much as you accuse Lennox of distorting it.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

So can I, when Habermas was asked, in English about the alleged "misquotation" he didn't say that it had misrepresented what he said, though he cited a conversation he'd had with Pope Benedict XVI.

If you look at the tape where he is asked about it, it is clear Habermas did not completely hear the question, nor understand exactly what it was addressing.

Since he's been asked about this, I would like you to produce Habermas disavowing the quotation as given by Lennox.

This is clearly an unreasonable demand. How can I produce something that I don't have?

Look, Lennox was clearly taken in by the phony translation. There is no evidence Lennox ever looked at Habermas in the original; he was just quoting someone else's lousy translation (see http://recursed.blogspot.ca/2011/02/pascal-lecture-another-year-another.html ), which was exposed quite some time ago as bogus by Thomas Gregersen. See http://www.habermasforum.dk/index.php?type=news&text_id=460 .

It just goes to show how far Christians are willing to go in forsaking their intellectual credibility, that you continue to defend Lennox's use of the bogus translation even after it has been exposed in detail.

The Thought Criminal said...

I listened to the tape, Habermas in English at that sound fidelity is hard going. The tape proves one thing, that Habermas was aware of the controversy due to having been asked the question.

Habermas is entirely able to defend the integrity of what he said if he thought he'd been misrepresented. I would like you to show that he is on record as having accused Lennox of what you are.

I am unaware of Lennox addressing this issue, are you? I can say that in the German original there is nothing for dogmatic atheists to take comfort in, considering that Habermas is both an atheist and one of the most prominent of living intellectuals in this area. Just addressing what your own citation says he says in German shows that what Lennox said is a rough paraphrase of what the original German says. To deny that either shows an inability to read German or an unwillingness to admit what it says.

When Habermas said, "Dazu gibt es bis heute keine Alternative. Auch angesichts der aktuellen Herausforderungen einer postnationalen Konstellation zehren wir nach wie vor von dieser Substanz." that means in all of his voluminous reading of philosophy, atheist, secular, scientific, etc. THEREFORE TILL TODAY THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE, to the Jewish ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. No alternative, and those, despite contemporary conditions (challenges?)in a post-national world, are what nourish us.

Clearly Habermas is saying that materialism and atheism don't do that, which is hardly a shock, considering the mainstream of materialism and atheism which deny the reality of both those forms of justice and love and the ethical consequences of them. Atheism is more likely to undermine a confidence in democracy through denying the possibility of free thought and free will.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The tape proves one thing, that Habermas was aware of the controversy due to having been asked the question.

Not clear at all - it is not even clear he is sure what particular passage is being referred to.

I would like you to show that he is on record as having accused Lennox of what you are.

I can't even parse this. Is English your native language? I doubt Habermas has any knowledge of Lennox.

I am unaware of Lennox addressing this issue, are you?

Yes, I've personally brought it to Lennox's attention. I have a message from one of Lennox's aides saying (more or less) that Lennox is aware that he used an incorrect translation of the quotation and he now only uses the correct one. The aide says, "Unfortunately these things happen from time to time, even in academia (I have had to change a few things from earlier work myself!)" so it is clear that Lennox or at least his aide concedes my point.

Just addressing what your own citation says he says in German shows that what Lennox said is a rough paraphrase of what the original German says.

No, it doesn't. Quit lying. The phony quote used by Lennox attributes it to "Christianity and nothing else" and this is NOT what Habermas said. Did you even read the analysis by Gregersen?

The contortions you have to go through to deny what Lennox (or his aide) admits are pretty funny, though, I have to admit.

The Thought Criminal said...

OK, you tell me where in the German the meaning of what Lennox said that is radically different in meaning. Show me exactly where you find a refutation of what I translated, then paraphrased.

I gave you the exact sentence that in context of the entire passage, since Habermas begins by identifying Christianity, which he is referring to, I would assume he noting that Christianity must include the Jewish doctrine of justice, would make what Lennox said an accurate paraphrase if not a free translation of what Haber said, Dazu gibt es bis heute keine Alternative. "Therefore, till today, there is no Aternative" than Jewish justice and Christian love, which produce the entire range of things, beginning with "egalitarian universalism" - I'd translate that universal egalitarianism - from which freedom and communal concord, autonomous living and and in individual moral conscience, the rights of humans and democracy, for which those are obviously given as a prerequisite, but he, in no uncertain terms identifies those in the wider world as a product of Christianity.

Der egalitäre Universalismus, aus dem die Ideen von Freiheit und solidarischem Zusammenleben, von autonomer Lebensführung und Emanzipation, von individueller Gewissensmoral, Menschenrechten und Demokratie entsprungen sind.

Show me in the original, German that that is not what is said. There is absolutely nothing in that statement to give an atheist who hates Christianity any joy.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

You seem extremely confused. I don't "hate Christianity"; I was raised as a Christian and have a lot of respect for many Christians. I don't have respect for the few Christians who have to lie to support their faith.

I have said over and over again that Habermas never said anything like "Christianity and nothing else". I cannot show you *that* in the original German because IT IS NOT THERE.

Do you understand the difference between "ein Erbe der jüdischen Gerechtigkeits- und der christlichen Liebesethik" and "Christianity and nothing else"? Is the absence of "Jewish" a hint? Do you understand the difference between attributing human rights to "Der egalitäre Universalismus" and attributing it to "Christianity and nothing else"? These are rhetorical questions, because of course you *don't* understand it and never will. You're willfully misunderstanding the point of Gregersen.

The discussion by Gregersen is definitive. Read it, then go argue with him if you like. I think you're just being silly, and I don't enjoy arguing with silly people. Even Lennox's aide - whom you seemed so keen in defending - admitted to me that the translation that Lennox used was bogus. And Gregersen even produced its probable source. What the heck is wrong with you that you cannot admit that?

The Thought Criminal said...

Oh, where in that statement do you find the alternative in what he said that that the line of things beginning with egalitarian universalism .... democracy comes from? If you can locate that it would make him saying "there is no alternative" rather hard to account for.

I find it rather hard to understand where you're going to pull this alternative from and make it square with Habermas' statement that there is no alternative to it when he has already named the source of it as Christianity, respecting the component of Jewish tradition that is inherent to Christianity. By the way, that is something which large number of Christian theologians would agree with, including the man he reiterated the idea to, Pope Benedict XVI who is probably the most accomplished academic theologian in the history of the papacy. I will tell you that though I didn't like him as Cardinal Ratzinger or as Benedict XVI that doesn't change that fact or that on matters of economic justice, political rights, things like the death penalty and various military adventures, he was farther left than most American politicians who are reputed to be center left and some who are consider left, left.

You're playing games, the statement makes absolutely no sense, at all, in your characterization of it. Habermas obviously knows enough to realize that since the ultimate authority in Christianity, Jesus, was Jewish, his entire gospel was predicated on the Jewish tradition, justice being the foremost of all aspects of Jewish morality. Leviticus 19:18 and numerous other verses, which are the very essence of the Jewish justice tradition, are taken up and expanded by Jesus. They became culturally influential in the West through Christianity and from those came the political concept of equality before God, the endowment of equal rights, the moral obligation to respect those rights equally, from which all the rest flows, including democracy in the modern meaning of the term, including universal enfranchisement and the protection of equality not only before the law but in commercial and other areas of life. And that's what he said.

I read what Gregersen said and it obviously doesn't change the meaning of that. The only one able to give this a "definitive" answer is Habermas as it is his meaning which is being argued. In the absence of that definitive answer, there are interpretations that take into account all of the statement and those which don't, yours seems to end with "Lennox is lying".

Name what Habermas said there was no alternative to.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I never said Lennox was lying; he was obviously taken in by a bogus translation and never bothered to check it himself. You seem to have a great deal of trouble parsing written English, or you have some mental pathology. I'm beginning to suspect the latter. Go bother someone else.

The Thought Criminal said...

Oh, for crying out loud. Identify what Habermas said there was no alternative for. Here I've translated it word for word.

Das Christendom ist für das normative Selbstverständnis der Moderne nicht nur eine Vorläufergestalt
Christianity is, for normative understanding of modernity, not only a preformation

oder ein Katalysator gewesen.
or a catalyst.

Der egalitäre Universalismus, aus dem die Ideen von Freiheit und solidarischem Zusammenleben,
Egalitarian universalism, from which the ideas of freedom and communal concord

von autonomer Lebensführung und Emanzipation, von individueller Gewissensmoral,
of autonomous life and emancipation, of indivdual moral conscience

Menschenrechten und Demokratie entsprungen sind,
human rights and democracy have sprung from,

ist unmittelbar ein Erbe der jüdischen Gerechtigkeits
is an unmittigated inheritance from the Jewish doctrine of justice

-und der christlichen Liebesethik.
and the Christian ethic of love.

In der Substanz unverändert,
In unchanged substance

ist dieses Erbe immer wieder kritisch angeeignet und neu interpretiert worden.
this inheritance has been critically adopted, over and over, and newly interpreted.

Dazu gibt es bis heute keine Alternative.
For that [meaning for producing all those things] there is till today no alternative.

Auch angesichts der aktuellen Herausforderungen einer postnationalen Konstellation
Even given the present callenges [to Christianity] in a post national world,

zehren wir nach wie vor von dieser Substanz.
we feed from this substance [ the combination of Jewish justice and love in Christianity]

Alles andere ist postmodernes Gerede".
Everything else is postmodern babble.

In other words, Christianity isn't a mere precursor or a catalyist for those things listed, it is the very thing that nourishes them, even today, there is no alternative source of those things.

Habermas is talking about the culture of Europe and the Western world in general, by an overwhelming margin, of the two things listed which could be the direct source of that long list of things we enjoy in modern egalitarian democracy, the direct source of its prerequisites, is identified in the subject of the first sentence, Christianity.

With German intellectuals, you don't get the whole meaning of a passage if you choose to ignore parts of what is said. They don't have the current Anglo-American superstition that complex ideas can be conferred in 4th grade language and simple sentences, you've got to read every word.

Oh, and I withdraw the word "lying" as applied to Lennox, show where it applies to anything I've said.

I'm going to post this so unless you want this to be the last word, feel free to answer my points and my questions.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I've already answered them, as has Gregersen. The fact that you don't like the answers doesn't change that.

Even Lennox (or at least his aide) acknowledges the translation he used is bogus. He seems to have a shred of intellectual honesty. You do not.

The Thought Criminal said...

I find it rather funny for you to accuse Lennox of not having a "shred of intellectual honesty" when you won't answer my simple question, what is it that Habermas said there is no alternative for when it is a question of identifying the source of modern, egalitarian democracy. The answer, in his own statement which is in question is Christianity and you can't bring yourself, after your accusations to admit it.

Bert Brouwer said...

Correction:
Anti-semitism is deeply [rooted] in christianity, and not something for christians to be proud of.

Conclusion:
There's really no reason for christians to boast on anything, not on Abermas or anyone else's words and not on their misquotations either. Not only because christianity tells christians to be modest to begin with, but also because its morality is fundamentally ambiguous.

For that you only have to look at Jesus himself, who in the gospels on the one hand said: "Love thine enemy", but on the other hand called the Jewesh spiritual leaders he talked to 'sons of the devil', and treated them as such. This example, in which the one hand doesn't know (or ignores) what the other hand is doing, has been followed by christians ever since. The rest is idle, postmodern babble.

Any raised christian (and that goes for me to) should be very well aware of this.

The Thought Criminal said...

You like Gregersen ignored the first sentence in the quote by Habermas given at Gregersen's own site in order to distort Habermases statement.

I've posted this exchange with commentary at my website.


http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-great-struggle-over-jurgen-habermas.html

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Already answered by both me and Gregersen.

One cannot answer a person when their fingers are firmly in their ears.

The Thought Criminal said...

Bert Brouwer, first it's HABERMAS, secondly, he is an athiest, third antisemitism is hardly a uniform description of Christianity from the start till today, fourth, antisemitism, especially European antisemitism isn't an invention of Christianity, it was quite prominent among the classical Greeks and Romans, I would imagine that Habermas is aware of the promotion of the antisemitism and philo-germanism of Tacitus by the Nazis.

It is especially obtuse for someone to mention Jesus who is identified in all of the gospels as being born a Jew, to a Jewish mother, who constantly alluded to and quoted the Jewish scriptures and who was still identified as a Jew with a sign attached to the cross by the Romans who killed him, not unlike the Nazis identified his fellow Jews who they killed.

You should look more closely at these issues before spouting urban myths and atheist talking points, as if there's much difference in the intellectual status of those. Habermas certainly has.

Bert Brouwer said...

I hear you and your ansewer is clear to me.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I've posted this exchange with commentary at my website.

Oh, well, then, gee, I guess I'll drop everything I'm doing and rush right over there.

Not.

The Thought Criminal said...

Oh, you dropped it when you refused to answer the points I made about how you and the site you believe is "definitive" cut off the first sentence in the statement by Habermas. I was just interested in seeing if you had anything and it was clear a while back you don't.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Yes, and it's been clear for a long time that you are unwilling to accept what is obvious to everyone else: that the paraphrase of Habermas is incorrect and misleading. Even Lennox's aide implicitly admits that.

Now go bother someone else, as I've asked.

Bert Brouwer said...

"I hear you and your ans(e)wer is clear to me.", was a reaction to Mr. Shallit.

In reaction to the "The Thought Criminal":
You are clearly unable to apply that biblical story of the splinter (in this case: Abermas/Habermas) and the log to yourself - and by the way, neither could Jesus. So indeed there's really now point in discussing any of this any further with you. Your gibberish only proofed that you are utterly confused, the result of the inability to cope with conflicting information, what psychologists refer to as 'cognitive dissonance'.