Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Carl Trueman on the Dangers of the Free Press

Professor Carl Trueman has some less than positive comments on the expanded freedom of the press that has occurred in the Internet age. Per Trueman:
Yet even as this increasing freedom is to be welcomed, it is not without inherent problems. In the past, if I wanted to tell you my views on subatomic physics, the best an idiot like myself could have done was to self-publish a book on the subject; and as soon as bookstore managers and journal editors noticed that the book was published by the `Carl R Trueman Center for Really Very Complicated Scientific Inquiry', no mainstream bookshop would stock it and no reputable organ would review it. These days, however, I could simply start my own webpage or blog, and somebody out there - probably a bunch of my own besotted but unqualified and incompetent disciples - would take it seriously, flag up my works, surround my blogs and articles with praise, and make me look like a credible player in the internet world of subatomic research . Credible, that is, to anyone who took the web at face value and did not know anything about the subject or my own lack of any qualifications in the relevant field.
Of course, a similar problem occurred with the introduction of paper (reducing the cost of hand-copying manuscripts) and especially the introduction of the printing press (reducing the cost of reproducing text).

Trueman's nostalgia of the golden days before the Internet are mistaken, however. First, there was plenty of tripe that was carried by bookstores and published by publishers (obviously, in the opposite order). Why was it published and carried? Because the owners thought they would profit from it.

Second, the firehose of the Internet has its own mechanism for sorting out the tripe. There are reasons that certain sites get more traffic than others. Sometimes the mechanism is as simple as the economic mechanisms that drove bookstores in the pre-Internet era. It costs time and/or money to run a good website, and it costs time and/or money to drive visitors to one's website.

Sometimes the mechanism is the vox populi. The reason that certain blogs are popular is because people know writing that they like when they see it. Doug Wilson is a prime beneficiary of this effect. Likewise, a few blogs appeal on the basis of their substance, such as specialty blogs on niche topics.

There can be other effects as well, but the bottom line is that not all the millions of blogs get the same amount of shelf space in the Internet supermarket of ideas. Big, well-funded and well-filled sites get lots of space, and poorly funded and poorly managed sites get hardly any space.

So, having read my fair share of worthless e-pologetics (and perhaps my critics will say I've contributed more than my fair share), I still think that Trueman's concerns overlook the credibility signaling that does exist within the Internet. The same problems that existed before the Internet still exist - the additional problems are just a result of having more quantity of material now than ever before.

It's as though your favorite bookstore moved into a large warehouse, and now can stock even the most obscure self-published books. Actually, it's rather like what places like Amazon.com and BN.com have become.


How to Answer the Fool - Sye Ten Bruggencate

American Vision and Sye Ten Bruggencate have collaborated to provide "How to Answer the Fool." I had the pleasure of listening to the presentation for free, courtesy of Crown Rights Media, who were also involved. The presentation was about 85 minutes long, and is focused on the apologetic method. I did not see the study guide.

The video provides a presentation of the apologetics approach in which the revelation of Scripture has preeminence (often called the "presuppositional" approach). The analysis is critical of the evidentialist approaches, using examples from folks like Lee Strobel, John Lennox, Frank Turek, and William Lane Craig. There is also criticism of Rick Warren and his "give Jesus a try" approach as well as a brief criticism of Pascal's wager.

It is not just a lecture on apologetic methodology. There are some examples of open air apologetics applying this approach. Still, there is an explanation of the methodology and with the problems with rejecting the methodology.

One of the most interesting parts of the video come from an interview that began as a discussion with atheists, but had a surprising twist, which pointed out how the methodology does not need to be limited to those who call themselves atheists.

I really loved the video. As Sye emphasizes in the video, the methodology's big advantage is that it drives you back to Scripture. Certain distinctive aspects of the methodology are emphasized (precisely because they are distinctive), so people may come away with the idea that all of the discussion is just asking one or two easy to ask questions. Still, he takes care to point out that it is more than that.

Cinematically, the presentation is developed with an intentionally "gritty" feel. While those techniques are not my personal favorite, they convey the point that this presentation is intended to be for the streets, even though it is skillfully produced. The elements of the presentation flow well, and even the rap in the credits time of the video is on point.

At one point in the video, one might come away with the idea that Sye does not consider himself accountable to anyone but God. I suspect that this point was not clarified because of a desire to focus on the topic at hand. There are subordinate authorities, of course, including the overseers in the church, family authority, and the civil authorities.


Disclaimer: as noted above, I did not pay to see this video, but was instead permitted to view the video without charge.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Calvin as Tyrant?

R. Scott Clark has some antidote to the oft-repeated slander of Calvin as Tyrant (link).