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.