My last exchange with David Eller over his essay in The Christian Delusion was not pretty. Simply because I pointed out that he forgot to include an argument in his chapter he responded that I was “clearly unfamiliar with the abundant literature”. That’s a great line. In fact it is so good that I’ve appropriated it for my arsenal. So if ever anyone points out that I forgot to include an argument with my verbiage I can retort that they are “clearly unfamiliar with the abundant literature”. (I haven’t forgotten to include an argument yet, but it is comforting knowing the abundant literature line is waiting like the airbag in my dashboard for the emergency that will call it into service.)
So now we come to Chapter 1, written by Eller and titled “Christianity Evolving: On the Origin of Christian Species.” Eller begins hopping from foot to foot with both dukes in the air. He clearly means business:
“Christianity has always been secular, worldly, changing, and evolving to adapt to its social circumstances–but so has Islam and every other human-made religion.”(24)
I’m not sure what Eller means by “secular, worldly”. That sounds like an evangelist. But it is certainly true that Christianity has changed and adapted to its social environment, as have Oxford University and Walmart.
Eller believes the social adaptation of Christianity over time demonstrates that its core truth claims are false. By recounting its complex historical development over time, Eller avers that
“Christianity will be exposed as a thicket of bickering religions, absorbing local influences and reinventing themselves over and over again–which does undermine any possible claim of uniqueness or truth in Christianity.” (25)
Wait a minute. Why does the complex historical development of Christianity over time “undermine any possible claim of uniqueness or truth in Christianity”? Oh no! Don’t tell me Eller forgot to include an argument again. What he needs is a proposition like this:
Eller’s thesis: any religion which develops over time is false or likely false.
Of course Eller is free to tweak it. That’s merely a first approximation. But I’m not going to do his work for him. He can articulate and defend his own thesis.
Actually, Eller’s whole culture change argument doesn’t do any work for him. To see why this is the case, imagine that Christianity didn’t change at all. Imagine that it is the most static social group in history. Christians have continued to live in the region of Palestine for two thousand years, wearing the same period clothes, speaking Aramaic, and following Rabbi Yeshua. Here would be a case of a religion which had not developed over time. If Eller stumbled upon this religion, say by reading a National Geographic article called “Among the Nazarenes”, would he suddenly be persuaded that here was a group with a revelation that was very possibly true because it had escaped “Eller’s thesis” by not changing?
No, of course not.
So in fact, Eller’s thesis as defined is not wearing the trousers. So then what is? It would seem his actual thesis looks more like this:
Eller’s thesis revision 1: any religion which develops over time is false or likely false and any religion which doesn’t develop over time is false or likely false.
Wait a minute, this is unnecessarily verbose. I think we should pare down the thesis to get ride of the non-essentials. When we do we get the following:
Eller’s thesis revision 2: every religion is likely false.
Ahhh, so that’s the thesis that lies behind Eller’s essay. I have a giddy feeling, like the Orken Man who just discovered the termite’s nest.
So let me reconstruct Eller’s argument.
(1) Every religion is likely false.
(2) Christianity changed over time.
(3) Therefore, Christianity is likely false. (from 1)
But why include (2) at all? Why bother the reader with a tiresome historical survey of Christianity? Talk about unnecessary middlemen: (2) is the equivalent of Blockbuster Video in the age of Netflix.
So I suggest Eller revise his argument by cutting out the entire chapter and reducing it to the following:
(1) Every religion is likely false.
(2) Therefore, Christianity is likely false.
This argument is logically valid, clear and simple. The only issue remaining is that Eller has to defend (1).
Dangnabbit, there’s always a catch.