Monday, December 26, 2011

Immanuel Kant - Quote of the week

"Criticism alone can sever the root of materialism, fatalism, atheism, free-thinking, fanaticism, and superstition, which can be injurious universally; as well as of idealism and skepticism, which are dangerous chiefly to the Schools, and hardly allow of being handed on to the public" 
-Immanuel Kant

-Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787) Preface to 2nd edition, B xxxiv

Monday, December 19, 2011

Philosophy Quote of the week

I'm starting a quote of the week. The quote of the week will be posted on Mondays. Each quote will be from an important philosopher. I will start things off with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard.

“When the world commences its drastic ordeal, when the storms of life crush youth’s exuberant expectancy, when existence, which seemed so affectionate and gentle, changes into a pitiless proprietor who demands everything back, everything that it gave in such a way that it can take it back-then the believer most likely looks at himself and his life with sadness and pain, but he still says, “There is an expectancy that the whole world cannot take from me; it is the expectancy of faith, and this is victory. I am not deceived, since I did not believe that the world would keep the promise it seemed to be making to me, my expectancy was not in the world but in God.”

- Two Upbuilding Discourses (16 May 1843) in The Expectancy of Faith From Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses. p. 23-24

Theology of Christmas

With Christmas being just around the corner, I thought I would share (again) this message by John Macarthur on the Philippians 2:5-11. This is one of my favorite messages by Macarthur. If you're not interested in video or audio the transcript of the message is here.

Should Obama get credit for killing Osama bin Laden?

DISCLAIMER: The following viewpoints, or opinions, are not those of the blogger, but a friend of his. If this point of view upsets you, you may vent, but don’t yell at the person who posted them. Start a discussion, express and opinion, but don’t yell at the person who didn’t write it, that is just senseless… These writings are the intellectual property of me, the Author, with permission granted to the blogger who is positing them. They may not be reposted or used in any form without express written consent by either myself or the blogger of Reformed Seth.

Should Obama get credit for killing Osama bin Laden? As we enter this election cycle, which will consume our airways for the next 10 months, I think it is a fair question. And after stating this opinion to a friend on Facebook, I realized, this is a very touchy subject!

My friend is a Progressive, and thinks that the current president has not gone far enough to the left to make him happy, but at the same time, feels that since he is president, he deserves the credit for killing bin Laden. I was kind of slammed and called unpleasant names because I think differently on the matter.

He is of the opinion that since the President is at the top, anything that is done that is good, is done by him. Of course, anything that is bad is done by the Republican Party and those 'damn Tea Baggers'.

I think the credit should be given to the members of Seal Team Six who went and actually did the job. To the C.I.A. who got the intelligence, and those who did the planning of the raid. THAT makes sense. All the President did was give the green light.

We have heard that there were no thoughts to capturing bin Laden, that it was always going to be death, so why is it that the President, Secretary of State and all the others were in the photo op, to show they were the ones who said "GO!"? But do they deserve the credit? I say NO! Not just because Obama is going to run this into the ground during an election year: how he was tough with the Islamic extremist, how he had the power of life and death in his hands, and had the cajones to pull the trigger and get the most wanted, hated, and vile man inside the United States of America (Barney Frank being the second most hated man).

I look at it this way. What would have happened if Obama had said no, don't go after him, and it had come out? He would have been a shorter termed President than he already will be. They would have started impeachment proceedings against him if he hadn't done what he did, so he gave the okay, to keep his job. When it would have been better if he was just DOING his job.

Imagine the intelligence we would have gotten if the death had been kept quiet for a few months, which of course with the loss of the helicopter would have made it very difficult, but not impossible. So, instead of taking the smart road, Obama took the expedient road, and put the crown on his head saying, "LOOK WHAT I DID! I DID THIS!" Sorry, but if he won't take responsibility as President of the United States, for the stupid and irresponsible things that he and his administration have done, almost on a daily basis, then he doesn't get to take credit for the good thing that they have done either.

He, like the rest of us, can't have it both ways.

Thus endth the lesson!

Or at least, that is how Mark C's it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sausage Grinder epistemology

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. How do we know what we know? What is the source of that "knowing"? Its limits? What about its structure? Well that is the purpose of epistemology, to answer questions like that. Before Immanuel Kant, there were two camps in this study of philosophy: rationalists and empiricists. Parmenides, Plato, Augustine, and Leibniz would be seen as rationalists. Heraclitus, Aristotle, Aquinas, Bacon, Locke, and Hume would be empiricists.


Above I mentioned two words that need defining: rationalists and empiricists. What is a rationalist? A rationalist claims there are significant ways we gain knowledge and concepts independently of sense experience. The key to understanding both camps in epistemology is to remember: it's all about sense experience. Your view on how important the role sense experience plays in our gaining concepts and knowledge will put in one of these camps.

So we now know rationalists claim there are other ways than through sense experience that we gain concepts and knowledge. What are those other ways? From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "First, they argue that there are cases where the content of our concepts or knowledge outstrips the information that sense experience can provide. Second, they construct accounts of how reason in some form or other provides that additional information about the world." Further, rationalists claim we have innate ideas that are "before experience." This knowledge is part of our rational nature, so it's not gained by intuition, deduction, or experience because it was there all along. Our experiences can trigger or set-off that knowledge, but experience didn't provide us with the knowledge itself. Rationalists disagree on how we gained this a-priori knowledge. Some say God stamped it on us at creation. Others say we gained it in an earlier existence, while there are those who say it was gained through natural selection.


You can probably guess empiricism is all about. Yep, it's all about sense experience. John Locke claimed that the human mind at birth is a "tabula rasa" or blank slate, which means we are born with a mind without inclinations. Empiricists argue for a posteriori knowledge, that sense experience is the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge. From the SEP, "Empiricists present complementary lines of thought. First, they develop accounts of how experience provides the information that rationalists cite, insofar as we have it in the first place. (Empiricists will at times opt for skepticism as an alternative to rationalism: if experience cannot provide the concepts or knowledge the rationalists cite, then we don't have them.) Second, empiricists attack the rationalists' accounts of how reason is a source of concepts or knowledge." As I said before, sense experience is "ultimate" for the empiricist, there is no other foundation for knowledge. At this point, it's important to note that empiricists do not think we have empirical knowledge, but that our only avenue for knowledge, if at all, is by experience. 

Transcendental Method 

Yes, there has been a third way and this way was achieved by Immanuel Kant with his transcendental method of knowledge. Kant more or less took the best of both camps (rationalist and empiricist) to establish his method. Sense experience was the starting point for Kant. He disagreed with the rationalists' innate ideas, such as Descartes, but he distinguished between "prior to experience" knowledge and innate ideas with mental categories; a two-step approach if you will. For fear of over-simplifying I will give a link to Kant's method. We have mental categories of things that Kant would call "appearances" and then we have "things in themselves," i.e. things that are absolutely real. 

Kant's words: 
"T]he objective validity of the categories, as a priori concepts, rests on the fact that through them alone is experience possible (as far as the form of thinking is concerned). For they then are related necessarily and a priori to objects of experience, since only by means of them can any object of experience be thought at all. 

The transcendental deduction of all a priori concepts therefore has a principle toward which the entire investigation must be directed, namely this: that they must be recognized as a priori conditions of the possibility of experiences (whether of the intuition that is encountered in them, or of the thinking). Concepts that supply the objective ground of the possibility of experience are necessary just for that reason." 

You can think of Kant's method as a sausage grinder: sensations going into mental categories. What comes out of the sausage grinder? Knowledge. Kant argues that the categories are necessary for experience; without the mental categories we would have no way to experience anything. Do you think Kant's philosophy helped epistemology by finding a bridge between the camps? Or do you think he even made a bridge? One thing is certain: his method changed philosophy, so much so that philosophers to this day have various interpretations of the transcendental method, disagreeing over this aspect and that aspect. One could say this method created a crisis in philosophy and not just a change.

Kant's method is heavy reading to be sure, but it's also enjoyable (if you like philosophy that is) even though the method's complexity is high on the complex scale.

I highly recommend reading the links underneath "further reading" if you're interested in epistemology. 

Transcendental method (SEP) here is the method in Wikipedia

Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason

As always, a fair amount of resources can be found here at Apologetics 315. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Philosophy links

Like philosophy? Do you like free stuff instead of purchasing books? My answer to both questions is "Yes! Yes I do!" Here are some links to free philosophy resources I use. *I only like to recommend things I've used. If there are resources related to this you've found useful, then let me know in the comments section* I'll be adding to this list occasionally too.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
This is the site I use the most online to learn about philosophers and their work.

Reasonable Faith (Free, painless registration is required to get all the free resources)

Does Calvinism produce a God who is a moral monster?

Michael Horton asks and answers the question, "Does calvinism make God a moral monster?" His article was probably wrote to give a sneak peek of his new book "For Calvinism" which is one of two books on the debate for and against Calvinism; the author of "against calvinism" is Roger Olson. Horton sets up the article saying that Calvinism and Arminianism have to answer the question "Is God a moral monster?" He writes that both camps have to answer such questions such as: "If God knew that Adam and Eve were going to transgress his law, why didn’t he change the circumstances so that they would have made a different choice? and Why would God create people he knew would be condemned for their original and actual sin? Both camps have a view of predestination, so neither camp is free from the challenge or weaker than the other. Horton writes, "...the only difference is whether it is determined without purpose or with purpose." That is the main issue. 

I haven't read Olson's book, but I take Horton's word when he wrote the following:

"Roger Olson states his own view: “God is sovereign in the sense that nothing at all can ever happen that God does not allow” (100). So, if the fall happened, then God allowed it. The fall “was not a part of [God's] will except to reluctantly allow it” (99). OK, but then the fall was in some sense a part of God’s will. Calvinists acknowledge that it was not part of God’s revealed (or moral) will, but that he willingly permitted it as part of his plan. Yet Roger is looking for something in between: God “permits” it, but it is not a “willing permission” (64). Aside from the fact that any act of God in permitting something is already an act of will—a choice, my main point here is that Roger’s weaker claim is still strong enough to get him into the same hot water with the rest of us. Roger agrees that God knows everything that will happen. God even supervises everything that will happen. Nothing escapes his oversight. “I believe, as the Bible teaches and all Christians should believe, that nothing at all can happen without God’s permission” (71). 

And yet, Roger rejects R. C. Sproul’s statement, “What God permits, he decrees to permit” (78). Now, what could be more obvious than the fact that when someone with the authority to do otherwise permits something contrary to his revealed will, he is deciding, choosing, decreeing to allow it? Here again, Roger’s notion of a presumably unwilling permission is an oxymoron. To permit something is to make a positive determination, even if it in no way makes the one permitting it responsible for the action. So what is the substantive difference between saying, with Roger, that “nothing at all can ever happen that God does not allow,” and with R. C. Sproul, “What God permits, he decrees to permit”?" 

I think Roger's view is weak and gets him into the same trouble as the Calvinist, albeit, a different route of course. Granted, I haven't read Olson's book, but I am confused with his statement that "nothing can ever happen that God does not allow," and his disagreeing with Sproul on God decreeing to permit certain things to happen. He also notes that there are fringes Calvinism called hyper-Calvinism that teach God is the author of sin, i.e., God creates fresh evil in the hearts of man and directly causes man to sin, which is not only against scripture, but also against the teachings of reformed theology. God does not create fresh evil in man, nor does he directly cause our sinful or un-sinful actions. Horton finishes his article with the next three paragraphs. 

" The real difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is whether God has a purpose when he allows sin and suffering. Again, both views affirm that nothing happens apart from God’s permission. However, Calvinism teaches that God never allows any evil that he has not already determined to work together for our good (Rom 8:28). Nothing that he allows can terminate in evil. What would we say of a deity who “reluctantly permitted” a terrible disaster or moral tragedy, without a determination to overcome that evil with good? But that takes a plan and that plan must necessarily comprehend the evil that he is to conquer. 

Any view that makes God the author of sin does indeed turn the object of our worship into a moral monster. However, any deity who merely stands around reluctantly permitting horrible things for which he has no greater purpose in view, is equally reprehensible. In the one, God is sovereign but not good; in the latter, God is neither. Once you acknowledge that God foreknows a sinful act and chooses to allow it (however reluctantly) when he could have chosen not to, the only consolation is that God never would have allowed it unless he had already determined why he would permit it and how he has decided to overcome it for his glory and our good. Mercifully, Scripture does reveal that God does exactly that. Roger agrees that God “chose to allow” suffering and sin (72). The Calvinist says that God chose to allow them for a reason. It’s permitting rather than creating, but it’s permission with a purpose. Permission without purpose makes God a “moral monster” indeed. 

Reformed theology has maintained consistently that Scripture teaches God’s exhaustive sovereignty and human responsibility. God does not cause evil. In fact, God does not force anyone to do anything against his or her will. And yet, nothing lies outside of the wise, loving, good, and just plan “of him who works all things after the council of his own will” (Eph 1:11). That God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are true, no serious student of Scripture can deny. How they can be true is beyond our capacity to understand. As Calvin put the matter, following Luther, any attempt to unravel the mystery of predestination and human responsibility beyond Scripture is a “seeking outside the way.” “Better to limp along this path,” says Calvin, “than to rush with all speed outside of it.” 

You can read Horton's full article here.

Related posts

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thinking about the resurrection

If Jesus of Nazareth was not bodily raised from the dead, then Christianity would be "dead." Paul of Tarsus wrote to the Corinthians "...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless," and "...we should be pitied more than anyone." Strong conclusions huh? If Jesus Christ has not been raised, then Christianity is not worth living, much less thinking about. True, the arguments for God are not thrown out the window, but as far as I know, one could not argue for *Christian* theism without the resurrection of Jesus.

Theologian R.C. Sproul wrote,

"The claim of resurrection is vital to Christianity. If Christ has been raised from the dead by God, then He has the credentials and certification that no other religious leader possesses. Buddha is dead. Mohammad is dead. Moses is dead. Confucius is dead. But, according to Christianity, Christ is alive."

We understand how important the doctrine of the resurrection is. How do we know it happened? Can we know? Given the evidence we have I think we can. Generally, apologists use the "minimal facts" approach to the argument for the resurrection of Jesus,  which are the following:  the empty tomb, the appearances and the early belief in the resurrection. Given my rookie status as a defender for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth by God, I'm going to take a different approach, one I am most comfortable arguing for and that is: given the data we have, the best explanation for the appearances of Jesus is that it was Jesus Himself that appeared to the disciples, the women, and the 500. What are some of the other explanations for the appearances?  The most popular one is the hallucination hypothesis; this is the conclusion I want to make you think about.

 What is a hallucination? Hallucinations are like dreams, they're subjective. I can't see your dreams nor can you see mine, they happen in the mind. There's no objective reality outside the mind that more than one person could see. And since the appearances of Jesus happened in groups, it could not have been a hallucination. Historians agree on the appearances being seen by groups. In chapter 8 of the Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Fr. Ronald Tacelli gave thirteen arguments against the hallucination theory:

"(1) There were too many witnesses. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective. Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples minus Thomas, to the disciples including Thomas, to the two disciples at Emmaus, to the fisherman on the shore, to James (his "brother" or cousin), and even to five hundred people at once (1 Cor 15:3-8). Even three different witnesses are enough for a kind of psychological trigonometry; over five hundred is about as public as you can wish. And Paul says in this passage (v. 6) that most of the five hundred are still alive, inviting any reader to check the truth of the story by questioning the eyewitnesses -- he could never have done this and gotten away with it, given the power, resources and numbers of his enemies, if it were not true.

(2) The witnesses were qualified. They were simple, honest, moral people who had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

(3) The five hundred saw Christ together, at the same time and place. This is even more remarkable than five hundred private "hallucinations" at different times and places of the same Jesus. Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter. (The only other dead person we know of who is reported to have appeared to hundreds of qualified and skeptical eyewitnesses at once is Mary the mother of Jesus [at Fatima, to 70,000]. And that was not a claim of physical resurrection but of a vision.)

(4) Hallucinations usually last a few seconds or minutes; rarely hours. This one hung around for forty days (Acts 1:3).

(5) Hallucinations usually happen only once, except to the insane. This one returned many times, to ordinary people (Jn 20:19-21:14; Acts 1:3).

(6) Hallucinations come from within, from what we already know, at least unconsciously. This one said and did surprising and unexpected things (Acts 1:4,9) -- like a real person and unlike a dream.

(7) Not only did the disciples not expect this, they didn't even believe it at first -- neither Peter, nor the women, nor Thomas, nor the eleven. They thought he was a ghost; he had to eat something to prove he was not (Lk 24:36-43).

(8) Hallucinations do not eat. The resurrected Christ did, on at least two occasions (Lk 24:42-43; Jn 21:1-14).

(9) The disciples touched him (Mt 28:9; Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27).

(10) They also spoke with him, and he spoke back. Figments of your imagination do not hold profound, extended conversations with you, unless you have the kind of mental disorder that isolates you. But this "hallucination" conversed with at least eleven people at once, for forty days (Acts 1:3).

(11) The apostles could not have believed in the "hallucination" if Jesus' corpse had still been in the tomb. This is very simple and telling point; for if it was a hallucination, where was the corpse? They would have checked for it; if it was there, they could not have believed.

(12) If the apostles had hallucinated and then spread their hallucinogenic story, the Jews would have stopped it by producing the body -- unless the disciples had stolen it, in which case we are back with the conspiracy theory and all its difficulties.

(13) A hallucination would explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it would not explain the empty tomb, the rolled-away stone, or the inability to produce the corpse. No theory can explain all these data except a real resurrection. C.S. Lewis says,

"Any theory of hallucination breaks down on the fact (and if it is invention [rather than fact], it is the oddest invention that ever entered the mind of man) that on three separate occasions this hallucination was not immediately recognized as Jesus (Lk 24:13-31; Jn 20:15; 21:4). Even granting that God sent a holy hallucination to teach truths already widely believed without it, and far more easily taught by other methods, and certain to be completely obscured by this, might we not at least hope that he would get the face of the hallucination right? Is he who made all faces such a bungler that he cannot even work up a recognizable likeness of the Man who was himself?" (Miracles, chapter 16)
I find the above 13 arguments to be satisfactory defeaters (all or some, take your pick) for the hallucination theory. I don't intend to reiterate what has been said in the arguments, but I will go over some thoughts that have come to mind from reading other work on the hallucination theory. Historian N.T. Wright makes a good point: if people were individually claiming to see the risen Jesus, it's inexplicable that these appearances seem to have suddenly stopped. If people were going about claiming to have seen Jesus just to be trendy and fit in (like owning an iPad), we shouldn't expect those claims to all of a sudden stop. People would have been doing just that.

What about the group appearances?  Do the group appearances undermine the hallucination theory? I don't think so. Groups of people claim to see the mother mary in re-fried beans right? If you and I were looking at clouds and I say, "Hey, see that dinosaur?" You might would say, "Nope. Oh, wait a minute, yeah I do."  Remember this answer though in argument (3) "
Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter. (The only other dead person we know of who is reported to have appeared to hundreds of qualified and skeptical eyewitnesses at once is Mary the mother of Jesus [at Fatima, to 70,000]. And that was not a claim of physical resurrection but of a vision.)" I think the numbers are important in this argument against the hallucination theory. If just a few people were witnesses to this resurrection, then the hallucination rebuttal would be weighty and effective, but given the data we have, I don't find it to be weighty and effective.

Maybe the apostles saw something or somebody who resembled Jesus, and they believed it was him. The problem with this reasoning is that the apostles weren't expecting to see Jesus. One reason, as Bill Craig often points out, is that Jews who believed in resurrection all seemed to think of resurrection as an eschatological event. It was something that happened on the last day, not in the middle of history. And the resurrection was supposed to be general, not individual.

To wrap up, I'll borrow from an illustration I heard listening to a podcast: Think of somebody you know to have died, like a relative or something. Maybe your parents. What would you honestly think if you saw that person standing right in front of you right now? It seems like you'd have a few options: you're dreaming. you're hallucinating, you're seeing a ghost, the person never died to begin with, the person has risen from the dead. Honestly, I would probably think I saw a ghost, which is what the apostles first thought. They only believed after touching the scars and such. I don't buy the hallucination theory. If we only had the appearance to Paul, which was more like a vision, then I probably would. 

I must give credit where credit is due. I learned a lot about the rebuttal to the hallucination theory from a discussion between Greg Koukl and Sam Harper on the radio show, "Stand to Reason." Harper's printed work can be found here. Is the evidence for the resurrection perfect? No, but given the data we have, I'm convinced that God raised Jesus from the dead. 

Check out how the arguments for the bodily resurrection of Jesus play out in debates. The one below is a debate between William Lane Craig and Jame Crossley.  

If you don't like watching video you can listen to audio by downloading the mp3 file from Apologetics 315 here

You can also find more debates and lectures on the resurrection here.