Thursday, February 19, 2015

Reaction: J Warner Wallace and The Case For Truth, Part 4

Heh. I started this back on the 5th of February. It isn't finished, obviously. But, hey, I haven't got anything else for this morning, so here you go:

I wrote this introductory bit yesterday, when I thought I was finally recovering from the Flu. (I'm pretty sure it was the flu. Whatever it was, Tamiflu strated helping almost immediately.) So I figured I'd have time and energy to continue this the way I've been doing it so far. That was before last night. Last night was... kind of horrible. So I'm switching to a newer, shorter approach.
This post is part of an extended response to this video of a talk given by J Warner Wallace of Cold Case Christianity. Why? Well, somebody asked me to take a look and kind of offer my feedback/reactions. Here's the background. Everything I've said about the video is collected under the Cold Case Christianity tag, so that's where you should go if you want read the whole thing.

Honestly, though, I'm not sure anyone strictly needs to read the whole thing. I laid out some thoughts about Mr. Wallace's approach in the background post, and they've turned out to be fairly prescient in terms of what he has to say in this particular talk; so if you just want a general reaction, that's probably sufficient. At this point, I'm continuing on mostly for the sake of completeness, and because I'm curious if he has anything to add to the "eyewitnesses" argument for the historicity of Jesus.

In the last post, I stopped at the twenty-five minute mark, partly because the wall o' text was getting pretty long, and partly because I felt like I was getting away from explaining why I didn't find the thing convincing, and more into directly criticizing Mr. Wallace's approach. There's likely to be more of that ahead, so... um... be warned?
Yeah. Instead of going through it point by point, I'm just going to watch the rest of the talk. If he does anything that we haven't covered already, I might comment, but otherwise we're going all the way through the second half of the lecture and I'll just write down my final impressions.

I'm still very curious what the teenagers in his audience thought of this talk.

...Okay, fine, I'm going to comment a little. I'm at 31:55 in the lecture, and Mr. Wallace has been quizzing his students on whether various claims were objective or subjective. He's also been walking up the ladder of how-abstract-is-this, from physical claims, to mathematical claims (which he categorizes as "abstract"), to metaphysical claims, to moral claims. In the process, he's accidentally confirming something I talked about in the last post: this whole topic is vastly more complicated than objective/subjective and true/false. Trying to divide everything up into objective or subjective seems guaranteed to set up a false dichotomy.

In fact, rather than taking all those different kinds of claims (physical, mathematical, metaphysical, moral) and dividing them into objective or subjective, I think we'd be better off to add "subjective" in as another kind of claim: a claim of value. Are chocolate chip cookies the best dessert in the world? That's a question of value. Is tiramisu awesome? Also a question of value. That doesn't mean those claims aren't subjective; value is always perceived and changeable. But looking at it this way changes the way we make our divisions. Now, instead of having Physical, Mathematical, Metaphysical, and Moral claims which we divide into the larger categories of objective or subjective, we have five categories: Physical, Mathematical, Metaphysical, Moral, and Value claims, each of which we can approach on their own terms.

Going back to one of his earlier examples, let's look at "Hyundais can fly you to the moon." Mr. Wallace, using his objective/subjective split, classifies that as objective, and objectively false. I think there's a very good chance that he's miscategorized it -- that it isn't a physical claim at all. Instead, with such an obvious case of hyperbole, it seems far more likely that what we're hearing is the colloquial equivalent of "Hyundais are awesome," a value claim, and best considered and evaluated as a value claim rather than as a claim about the physical world.

That brings me back to Mr. Wallace's statement at 31:50 in the talk: "If there is a single objective transcendent moral claim that we can agree on, then we're stuck with the objective, transcendant nature of moral claims."

He then goes on discuss what he calls "objective, transcendent" moral claims -- basically making the claim that moral claims fall into the objective category. Now, he does acknowledge that moral claims tend to be complicated, and subject to disagreement, but I still think it's more useful to consider moral claims as kind of a separate category, rather than trying to shoehorn them into his objective/subjective setup.

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