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Do Apologists Employ the “Humpty Dumpty” Defense?

When Alice meets Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, she finds that he uses words very creatively.  In fact, a word means exactly what Humpty wants it to mean, no more and no less.

Christian apologists are sometimes accused of employing a “Humpty Dumpty Defense” by the atheists we argue with.  This particularly is seen with faith, which is understood as a form of loyalty to a patron based upon that patron’s proven ability to deliver on his promises.

Following the link, you will read a robust defense of why faith is understood this way, as opposed to the popular use of the term to mean “belief in the absence of, or in the teeth of, evidence.”

However, both militant atheists and uninformed Christians use faith in the Richard Dawkins/Mark Twain fashion to “cover up” a lack of evidence for God or the action of the Holy Spirit.  A majority of people believe faith to be “blind faith” — trusting when there appears to be no reason to.  Belief in the absence of evidence is a virtue to these people.  The less God shows himself, or (better) if the evidence actually leads one to believe that God is fictional, the more reward there will be in heaven for believing God does exist.

This is a serious mischaracterization of true Christian faith.  And when I — or others — argue for the traditional understanding of faith, we are accused of employing a “Humpty Dumpty” Defense.

And that is wrong.  Now let me tell you why.

Let’s first examine the passage from Through the Looking Glass:

Humpty Dumpty took the book, and looked at it carefully. ‘That seems to be done right—’ he began.

‘You’re holding it upside down!’ Alice interrupted.

‘To be sure I was!’ Humpty Dumpty said gaily, as she turned it round for him. ‘I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that SEEMS to be done right—though I haven’t time to look it over thoroughly just now—and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents—’

‘Certainly,’ said Alice.

‘And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

‘Would you tell me, please,’ said Alice ‘what that means?’

‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’

‘That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’

What is Humpty really doing here?  The new meanings for the two words were ad hoc redefinitions bearing no relationship to the current or historical meanings of either word.  He simply made up the new definitions to suit his fancy.

That isn’t what J.P. Holding did with faith in the above-linked article.

Holding explained cultural and historical definition of faith.  He argues that this is how a first century Christian would have understood faith; that the Church Fathers were using faith in this way; and that the larger culture used the word in nonreligious contexts in the same way.

Holding supplies good reasons for understanding the word against our culture’s use of it.  Christian apologists, therefore, are not using the “Humpty Dumpty” Defense.  We are not arbitrarily choosing a more convenient definition for faith; we are supplying logical arguments for why this is the proper definition.

This is very different than what the anthropomorphic egg was doing in the Lewis Carrol story.  And it cannot merely be dismissed with a wave of the hand saying “Humpty Dumpty defense” haughtily.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on July 1, 2013, in Apologetics, Religion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Whenever I run into an atheist who says that he holds no faith, I always ask, “Can you be certain that a god does not exist?”

    This question either exposes the atheist at this point as a know-it-all or as an idiot. If he answers “Yes,” he is a know-it-all which is contradictory because all humans are limited in knowledge. If he answers “No,” he is an idiot for he does have faith that there is no god.

    • james jordan

      Atheists have faith in subatomic particles they’ve never seen but they demand to be shown God in a visual way. I don’t believe in subatomic particles, by the way.

      • Of course they have confidence that sub-atomic particles exist. Because we do have evidence for them. For instance, we can see their effects.

        Which is the problem – there is no evidence of God’s existence. There’s no evidence against it either. Therefore, both the theist and atheist are making faith statements.

      • I’m not convinced that we can see the effects of so-called subatomic particles. One can imagine them with a lot of fuzzy math, but you can’t see them.

        Besides, by definition the Atom is supposed to be the smallest building block of matter. Logically then if you do find something smaller than it, you’ve got to rename what you’ve been calling an “Atom” up to that point, and then call the newly found smaller thing the Atom. By definition there can be no subatomic particles.

        As for God, there are certain prophecies that hold true which show the “effects” of God much more clearly than the supposed effects of any subatomic particle can be seen. The fact that the Jews are still around is proof enough.

        Quantum mechanics is nothing but mathematical theory based on fuzzy calculations, and atheists believe in it. They can’t see Schrodinger’s cat both dead and alive all at once, but they believe it like stooges. But they would never believe in the parting of the Red Sea.

      • “by definition the Atom is supposed to be the smallest building block of matter”
        To the Greeks that discovered it, there was nothing smaller. Kind of like the mustard seed of Jesus’s. In Jesus’s day, they didn’t know that there were even smaller things. That, and they would have called that kind of stuff that grew like that trees any way (mustard plants are bushes).

        “Quantum mechanics is nothing but mathematical theory based on fuzzy calculations, and atheists believe in it”
        Quantum mechanics is still a developing principle in the realm of physics. We are hoping we can find out more of it.

        “they would never believe in the parting of the Red Sea”
        This is being spoken to a Christian that doesn’t buy the parting of the Red Sea. The Exodus myth is one of great exaggeration. There is no way that it could have happened at the principles that were described in the Bible. Neither is there archaeological evidence for it. The ancient writer always has an agenda. This is probably his agenda to give the nation of Israel a history.

        That, and that’s just one theory. There is no doubt that the author wanted to give ancient Israel a much grander history than it initially started off with though.

      • “This is being spoken to a Christian that doesn’t buy the parting of the Red Sea.”

        You don’t really count as a Christian since you’re a homosexual.

      • No true Scotsman fallacy. And I’m bisexual. Yes, my views on sexuality and what the Bible says on this differ from yours but that is no reason to discredit someone’s Christianity. 🙂

      • Scottsmen aren’t a religion so its a very different matter. Its not like saying that anyone who doesn’t like Jalapenos is not a true Mexican. But a religion is defined by acceptance of rules and beliefs, whereas an ethnicity is defined merely by birth. If we treat Christianity as an ethnicity, you’re a Christian. If we treat it as religion, you aren’t. The same applies to myself for different reasons. Having rejected Paul’s apostleship I don’t classify as Christian in the strictest sense either.

      • So now you’re just telling me off for not being a Christian and you haven’t been one this whole time?!?

      • Actually, the atom is the smallest discrete unit of matter that still has the properties of the whole. There is nothing in that definition that precludes subatomic particles.

  2. james jordan

    “This particularly is seen with faith, which is understood as a form of loyalty to a patron based upon that patron’s proven ability to deliver on his promises.”

    Sorry, but after 27 years of Christianity I can say for sure this is no Christian definition of faith. The Jews can define faith that: They know God exists because of the national revelation of Sinai (see the Kuzari principle) and they trust that he will see them through all their persecutions because he has delivered so far. But your faith in Jesus’ death on the cross is not like that at all: its faith that an event took place, not faith that Jesus is going to deliver based on his non-existent track-record.

    “Following the link, you will read a robust defense of why faith is understood this way, as opposed to the popular use of the term to mean ‘belief in the absence of, or in the teeth of, evidence.’”

    You’re fighting an uphill battle to be taken serious on defining faith any other way that this — especially when by faith you mean faith in the cross — because the New Testament itself in Hebrews defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    You hope the story of the cross is true and your faith is the substance of it. You haven’t seen it but your faith is the evidence of it. Isn’t this how Christianity works? Of course it is.

    Judaism is very different, because here we have a nation in a relationship with God described as God’s firstborn son “Israel is my firstborn” and God describes them in terms like although a mother may forget to nurse her baby I will not forget you: and we see this working out in history, so there is no reason to question the story of the revelation to the whole nation at Sinai where all heard the voice of God speak the 10 commandments. But with the cross, there is room for doubt. It doesn’t produce this sort of evidence. The same with the Christian doctrines of original sin and eternal torment in hell and so on which are not taken on faith in the sense of “loyalty to a patron” but in the sense of “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    Take hell for instance. Christians believe hell is eternal torment “‘in the absence of, or in the teeth of, evidence.” What evidence? Jesus’ own saying “fear him who can DESTROY both body and soul in hell.” What evidence? Psalm 37:20 “But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.” Here is clear evidence that the Christian view of hell is wrong; but they continue to believe it anyway.

    • “Take hell for instance. Christians believe hell is eternal torment “‘in the absence of, or in the teeth of, evidence.” What evidence? Jesus’ own saying “fear him who can DESTROY both body and soul in hell.””

      Um…no. Sorry. This is actually Gehenna. Which is the city dump outside of Jerusalem. Next!

    • james jordan

      The Trinity is an even better example than the cross. The Jews can trust the God of Judaism who has preserved them in the face of the worst odds imaginable for so many centuries, and this trust can be called “loyalty to a patron based upon that patron’s proven ability to deliver on his promises.”

      The Christian faith in God’s existence can piggyback off of the experience of the Jews (as mine always has) but the Christian faith that God is a Trinity is nothing but belief without any evidence and furthermore is belief in spite of evidence. There is plenty of evidence in the Old Testament that the Trinity is bunk. There is the fact that Jesus says things like “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”–He clearly sections himself off from being God. Paul makes Jesus a man who was “highly exalted” after death. Peter in Acts preaches Jesus as “a man–a prophet–approved by God with signs and wonder” not 2nd Person of the Trinity. There is plenty of evidence the Trinity is a later invention. So faith in God is based on “loyalty to a patron” but faith in the Trinity is “in the teeth of evidence.”

    • Please read articles before you comment. Your entire objection is dealt with in the link.

      And don’t tell me you read the article. My stats tell me no one has followed that link in the last 30 days.

  3. Let’s do a more detailed round-up for some of Mr. Jordan’s points. They require some responding to, while (for once) I actually agree with most of what NewEnglandSun has to say.

    You hope the story of the cross is true and your faith is the substance of it. You haven’t seen it but your faith is the evidence of it. Isn’t this how Christianity works? Of course it is.

    No, this isn’t how Christianity works at all.

    Judaism is very different, because here we have a nation in a relationship with God described as God’s firstborn son “Israel is my firstborn” and God describes them in terms like although a mother may forget to nurse her baby I will not forget you: and we see this working out in history, so there is no reason to question the story of the revelation to the whole nation at Sinai where all heard the voice of God speak the 10 commandments. But with the cross, there is room for doubt. It doesn’t produce this sort of evidence.

    Christianity actually works pretty close to Judaism.

    God’s voice speaking on Sinai and leaving us the 10 Commandments is a testable historical event. The cross is also a testable historical event. Each has its own evidence for having happened. We can evaluate the evidence and come to a conclusion based on its merits.

    The Christian faith in God’s existence can piggyback off of the experience of the Jews (as mine always has) but the Christian faith that God is a Trinity is nothing but belief without any evidence and furthermore is belief in spite of evidence.

    No, actually the doctrine of the Trinity is very well supported all throughout the New Testament. Jesus claims equality to God, to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is demonstrated equal to God and to Jesus as well. Ontologically equal, functionally different. Yet all three coexist.

    In addition to the Glenn Miller article I linked to, see here for Jesus’ specific relationship to God and here for the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the Father and the Son.

    And, to shameless promote the Christian Aplogetics Alliance, check out Jonathan McLatchie’s defense of the Trinity. Since you repeatedly mention the Jewish faith, you may be interested in Eric Chabot’s response to Jewish objections.

    Finally, Mr. Jordan, I wouldn’t say that either you or NewEnglandSun weren’t proper Christians. I’d say that Mr. Sun is locked in a sin since he engages in homosexual behavior and that he can be free by trusting his Savior. I’d say that you hold heretical beliefs and should be excommunicated until you repent. Yes, YOU would be the greater concern because you are a false teacher and can sow major discord among believers.

  4. http://christianthinktank.com/trin02.html – has some bunk on it. For instance, the notion that echad means a composite unity comes from fundamentalists trying to read their teachings into the Bible. Echad is the Hebrew word for the numeral one. The noun it modifies can be a group though.

    Elohim means God or gods. It never indicates anything about the nature of the deity. It’s a little bit difficult to deceive someone who has had two semesters of Hebrew already.

    McLatchie’s defense of the Trinity uses a straw-man. That people state it violates the law of non-contradiction. It’s actually the law of identity we say it contradicts – http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Trinity

    The response to Jewish objections deals primarily with ancient ones. They need to get more up to date especially with the historical Jesus research.

    “I’d say that Mr. Sun is locked in a sin since he engages in homosexual behavior and that he can be free by trusting his Savior.”
    a) I’m BISEXUAL.
    b) I’ve NEVER engaged in sex.
    c) The jury isn’t “sold” so to speak, on the notion that homosexual activity is a sin, I have a different view on sexual purity than you do.

    • And why would they expect us to trust a guy who thinks the second law of thermodynamics refutes the theory of evolution (Ravi Zacharias)?

      • Because when a person is wrong about one thing, it doesn’t mean they are wrong about everything. You have to evaluate each claim on its own merits.

      • No it does not. But when one makes such a bogus claim about the second law of thermodynamics, it’s a complete degrading of whatever trustworthiness they once had.

      • When am I going to learn you’re really NOT worth my time??????

      • When I stop being “worth your time”. 🙂
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • In regard to echad meaning unity, it does NOT come from fundamentalists. I read that very same definition from Neil Gillman, a Jewish rabbi, in The Jewish Approach to God. Book and my article.

      Gillman said that God is uniquely God; that there is no other. Jews, especially the early ones like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, approach God in the sense of a plurality of powers rather than a single entity. However, the plurality is unified and unique — ehcad. Gillman, by the way, is far from a fundamentalist as he applauds rabbis who preach that the Exodus is a myth and not historic fact.

      That means the Christian Trinity isn’t all that far from the original conception of God.

      As to sexual purity, you are stating the obvious that your view differs from mine. So I’m stating the obvious again: I think your view is wrong and I’m not afraid to tell you that your view is wrong. Call me intolerant, a bigot, whatever. I think your view leads to ruin and damnation, and I would not be doing you justice if I didn’t say something.

      If my neighbor thought murder was perfectly fine, I’d be just as guilty as he if I “tolerated” his viewpoint and let him kill whomever he so chose. Remember that Paul not only condemns people who practice evil, but he also condemns those who allow it to continue unabated — the so-called “tolerant” ones, in our culture’s parlance (Rom 1:32).

      • I agree with Gillman’s interpretation however I think you are abusing both the Hebrew grammar and possibly him out of context. I haven’t read all of his statements about the alleged plurality of a Jewish God.

        The Brown-Driver Brigg’s lexicon clarifies that echad means:
        1) the same
        2) first
        3) some one
        4) a certain one
        5) one only of its kind
        6) one another
        7) one man
        8) one time, once
        9) suddenly or altogether
        10) one after another

        These are the various ways it is used in the Bible. Neil Gillman is correct that Deut. 6:4 should be taken as “the LORD alone is God”.

        “I think your view leads to ruin and damnation, and I would not be doing you justice if I didn’t say something.”
        This is what you “think”. It is not what you “know”.

        Note: the problem with the Roman Church that Paul is addressing is not homosexuality but rather judgmentalism over matters that do not matter (Rom. 2:3). It is a call to unity, not a call to condemn one another. You again are missing the point of Paul’s letter here. In fact, the entire argument is set up to provide ad hominem against the Pagans only to demonstrate that it is actually those who condemn the Pagans are the guilty party (Rom. 2:3 again).

        I did not become a bisexual as a result of idolatry as a literal reading of the text would enforce. So no, I do not think you are “intolerant, a bigot, whatever”. I think you are an idiot. And you have yet to prove me wrong.

      • And with that, you are done.

  5. james jordan

    Echad is EACTLY equivalent to the English word ONE. There’s nothing magic about it. Just like the English word ONE it can mean unity if the context is clear that multiple people are being spoken of.

    Adam and Eve became one flesh — they became a unity.

    The Moabites and Ammonites joined against the Israelites as one people — they became a unity.

    God is one — literally, God is one person, not a unity of multiple persons. The context here does not make it clear that multiple persons are involved — therefore, they aren’t.

    So Epic Fail, as the kids say these days.

    • Actually, you’re the one with the epic fail.

      Echad appears in the Bible 952 times. Over half of those times, it is translated “one.” However, it is also translated “first,” “each,” “same,” “other,” and is the indefinite article in Hebrew. Hardly the EXACT equivalent to the English word “one.”

      In fact, the etymology of echad is “a numeral from achad; properly, united, i.e. one; or (as an ordinal) first.” Achad means “to go one way or the other; be sharp.” The etymology, however, suggests it is a primitive root meaning “to unify” or “collect one’s thoughts.” All of which suggest God’s presence could be a plurality of powers, united in will and essence yet still forming distinct persons.

      Please note again my source (Rabbi Gillman) is both Jewish (NOT Christian) and (unlike you or I) has studied biblical Hebrew at a graduate level. He’s better at this than us both combined.

      Additionally, the translator notes in the NET Bible for Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) discuss two options:

      (1) One option is to translate: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (cf. NAB, NRSV, NLT). This would be an affirmation that the Lord was the sole object of their devotion. This interpretation finds support from the appeals to loyalty that follow (vv. 5, 14). (2) Another option is to translate: “The Lord is our God, the Lord is unique.” In this case the text would be affirming the people’s allegiance to the Lord, as well as the Lord’s superiority to all other gods. It would also imply that he is the only one worthy of their worship. Support for this view comes from parallel texts such as Deut 7:9 and 10:17, as well as the use of “one” in Song 6:8-9, where the starstruck lover declares that his beloved is unique (literally, “one,” that is, “one of a kind”) when compared to all other women.

  6. I’ve always thought that “faith” means believing without evidence. But I see that many Christians disagree. What is meant by “faith in God”?

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