Did William Lane Craig Confuse “Pornographic” with “Profane”?

In an earlier post, I reported that William Lane Craig had written that Internet Infidels sites “are literally pornographic (evil writing).”

I have to confess that when I first read this, I scratched my head. I thought to myself, “Does the word ‘pornographic’ have some secondary meaning I hadn’t run across before?” It appears the answer is “no.” Here is the definition of “pornographic” from Dictionary.com.


pornographic

por·nog·ra·phy

noun
obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit.
Origin:
1840–50;  < Greek pornográph ( os ) writing about harlots ( porno-,  combining form of pórnē  harlot + -graphos -graph) + -y3

por·no·graph·ic [pawr-nuh-graf-ik] Show IPA, adjective
por·no·graph·i·cal·ly, adverb
an·ti·por·no·graph·ic, adjective
an·ti·por·nog·ra·phy, noun, adjective
non·por·no·graph·ic, adjective

Now since our websites contain no writings about “harlots,” i.e., prostitutes or whores, much less sexually suggestive, erotic tales or imagery, I think it’s obvious that our websites are not “pornographic,” either in a literal sense or based upon the etymology of the word. So why did Craig use that word?

I find it hard to believe that someone as intelligent as Craig could have gotten confused about the meaning of the word “pornographic,” but I don’t claim to know what he was thinking. An Internet search turned up a Bible study website, which offers this analysis.

The word pornography can be broken down into two parts: “PORNEA” meaning filthy, and “GRAPHA” meaning to write. Therefore pornography literally means the writing or depicting of filth. One can define filth as anything that is unclean in God’s sight, or in other words, sin.

I don’t have the relevant expertise in Greek to directly comment on that analysis, but, even if this were accurate, I don’t see how that would support Craig’s claim that our websites are “literally” pornographic, since our sites are not literally “filthy.” On the other hand, I discovered this website which offers another interpretation that is more in line with my understanding of “pornea.”

The Greek words “pornea” (often translated “fornication“) and akatharsia (often translated “uncleanness“) are key terms used to refer to sexual sins in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament).

What I do know is that, while looking up the word “pornographic” on Dictionary.com, the site suggested some related words. One of those words is “profane.”

pro·fane

[pruh-feyn, proh-] Show IPA adjective, verb, pro·faned, pro·fan·ing.

adjective
1.characterized by irreverence or contempt for God or sacred principles or things; irreligious.
2.not devoted to holy or religious purposes; unconsecrated; secular ( opposed to sacred).
3.unholy; heathen; pagan: profane rites.
4.not initiated into religious rites or mysteries, as persons.
5.common or vulgar.

Based on that definition, it would be accurate to describe our websites as “profane,” not because we display “contempt for God” but because our sites are “characterized by irreverence.” They are also obviously “secular.” Of course, even the word “profane” does not literally mean “evil writing.”

Let’s try to put all of this into context. Craig was trying to discourage a young Christian from reading atheist Internet sites.  In that context, Craig referred to our websites as “evil writing.” I am unable to see how anyone could think that Internet Infidels websites are “literally pornographic,” since I am unable to find any basis for thinking our websites are “literally filthy writing.” 

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.


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