Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of God (Philosophy of Religion Students)

(For my Philosophy of Religion Students)

I begin the Philosophy of Religion class by introducing students to an a priori argument for God's existence, as formulated famously by Anselm.

I give 1-on-1 oral exams on my teachings. Here are my expectations for question 1 on the first exam - Anselm's Ontological Argument for God.

First: state the argument exactly as I have stated it in class, and written it on the board.

1. I have an idea of a being a greater than which cannot be conceived.
2. Therefore, God exists.

1. I have an idea of a greatest possible being.
2. Therefore, God exists.

Second: explain what it is like to have an "idea" of something (explain essential and contingent attributes).

Every time you have an idea of something, that idea has essential attributes and contingent attributes. Essential attributes are what makes that thing what it is, and without which it would not be what it is.

Use the example of a triangle. Essential attributes of "triangle" include: "having three sides," and "angles equaling 80 degrees."

A contingent attribute is a non-essential attribute. E.g., the triangle in my mind is "pink." "Pinkness" is not an essential attribute of triangularity; i.e., a triangle does not have to be pink in order to qualify as a triangle.

Third: Anselm claims to be able to conceive of "greatest possible being."

I can think, in my mind, of a greatest possible being. That is, I can have an idea of "greatest possible being." Because whenever I have an idea of anything, that idea has essential attributes (otherwise I could not have the idea), my idea of "greatest possible being" includes essential attributes of: "omniscience" (knows everything that can be known); "omnipotence" (is able to do everything that can be done); and "all-loving" (assuming it is greater to love than to hate). 

OK. But why must such a being actually exist? Because... 

Fourth: explain that, for Anselm, it is greater to exist in reality than in the mind alone.

"Existence," for Anselm, is a great-making attribute or property.

Therefore a greatest possible being (AKA "God") actually exists. Because if "actual existence" is not an essential attribute of "greatest possible being" then I am not thinking of "greatest possible being."

Fifth: explain why, for Anselm, if someone says "There is no God" then they are a "fool."

Because in order to say "There is no God" one must have a concept or idea of "God." Thus, that being the case, even the fool must acknowledge that God exists.

Finally: explain how, then, the argument works.

Anselm thinks his argument works because one cannot conceive or think of God as not existing, any more than one can think of a triangle that does not have three sides.

How to Discern What God Wants You to Do (PrayerLife)

Trail to the river in my backyard.

What does God want you to do? Henri Nouwen writes: 

"God has a very special role for you to fulfill. God wants you to stay close to his heart and let him guide you. You will know what you are called to do when you have to know it." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, p. 97)

This is counter intuitive in our culture, yet obvious in God's kingdom culture.

In our culture we are told to figure this out for ourselves, or get career counseling which hopefully will point us in a direction.

Nouwen's counsel is different. God will tell you what to do if you stay close to him. For all of us who believe in God this makes sense. Yet it is radical in church life, since many focus on figuring out what to do without emphasizing, in the first place, staying close to God's heart.

1. Stay close to God. (Abide in Christ.)
2. Listen and discern.
3. Follow.

All this is "the Lord is my shepherd" stuff. God desires to guide me in this life and will guide me as I stay close to his heart.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Danger of Feelings

I think some of my Finnish ancestors would approve of this cartoon from New Yorker magazine (here).

"This is the barn where we keep our feelings. If a feeling comes to you,
bring it out here and lock it up."

Intro to Western Philosophy - Thales

Thales (ca. 580 BCE)

1.   What is the problem of “the one and the many?”
2.   What is Thales’ solution to this problem?
3.   What is a contemporary example of the One and the Many? (quantum theory in physics)
4.   Which ancient Greek philosopher anticipated quantum theory?

What is the problem of the one and the many?
Pre-Socratic philosophers stressed the rational unity of things.
As Thales looked around he saw “change” everywhere.
Thales assumed that if there is change, then there is something behind change that does not itself change.
E.g. – you are changing… but there is a “you” behind all this change.
There must be a “you” that is the same “you” today as it was a second ago. Or 15 years ago.
E.g. – MCCC is different today… this moment, actually… then it was yesterday or a few moments ago.

Thales’ question assumes that if there are “many,” then somehow there must be a “one” behind the “many.”

Thales believes the concept of difference is logically dependent on the concept of sameness, which is more basic, and that difference must somehow be reducible to sameness.”


Thales’ question assumes that the human mind is capable of grasping this; viz., the unchanging one behind the many and, having understood it, the mind could understand the sense in which things hang together.

What is Thales’ solution to this problem?

The problem is: “What must be the hidden truth behind natural objects for them to exhibit the forms they do exhibit and to undergo the changes they undergo?”  (Palmer)

Thales: Everything, ultimately, is water.
Thales’ philosophical theory traces things to their ontological (not chronological) origin; that is, their origin in being.
This is about the relation of observable objects in the world to ultimate reality itself.

The Greeks were aware of the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Thales concluded that one of these elements must be more basic than the other three.

The question was: Which element was able to take on the greatest number of forms?

“Water” seemed the most likely candidate. – Liquid, solid, gas.

“Thales was perhaps the first philosopher to ask questions about the structure and nature of the cosmos as a whole.
He maintained that the earth rests on water, like a log floating in a stream. But earth and its inhabitants did not just rest on water: in some sense, so Thales believed, they were all made of water… [W]as it because all animals and plants need water, or because the seeds of everything are moist?” (Kenny, IWP, 2)   

Everything is water. Obviously, this is false.

Yet Thales’ claim that everything is water is an attempt to explain natural phenomena in terms of other natural phenomena.

Thales was wrong. But his question was very cool; viz., “What is everything composed of?”

What is a contemporary example of the One and the Many? 

Quantum reality.

‘Quanta’. The word itself means ‘packets’ or ‘discrete’

From Brian Cox (physicist at U. of Manchester, England) -
          Quanta are the smallest building blocks of our universe.
          Everything (!!!) is, ultimately, foundationally, quanta.
Cox - the behavior of the smallest building blocks of the Universe underpins our understanding of everything else. This claim borders on the hubristic, because the world is filled with diverse and complex phenomena. Notwithstanding this complexity, we have discovered that everything is constructed out of a handful of tiny particles that move around according to the rules of quantum theory.

All phenomena really are underpinned by the quantum physics of tiny particles.

“… your brain, the most complex structure we know of in the Universe. We have discovered that all these things are nothing more than assemblies of atoms, and that the wide variety of atoms are constructed using only three particles: electrons, protons and neutrons. We have also discovered that the protons and neutrons are themselves made up of smaller entities called quarks, and that is where things stop, as far as we can tell today. Underpinning all of this is quantum theory. The picture of the Universe we inhabit, as revealed by modern physics, is therefore one of underlying simplicity; elegant phenomena dance away out of sight and the diversity of the macroscopic world emerges. This is perhaps the crowning achievement of modern science; the reduction of the tremendous complexity in the world, human beings included, to a description of the behavior of just a handful of tiny subatomic particles and the four forces that act between them.

Which ancient Greek philosopher anticipated quantum theory?

Democritus anticipated this. 460-370 BC.

See Kenny, 18, para. 4 ff.
Note: The leap from “everything is water” to “everything is atoms” is smaller than it might seem to be.
Democritus made this leap (460-370 BCE) – Democritus developed the first atomic theory.

Democritus – “matter is not infinitely divisible.”
          “Atom” – the Greek word for “indivisible.”
Kenny – “According to atomism, if we take any chunk of any kind of stuff and divide it up as far as we can, we will have to come to a halt at some point at which we will reach tiny bodies which are indivisible.”

Democritus’ argument was philosophical, rather than scientific/experimental. See p. 18.
If matter was infinitely divisible, then suppose this has been carried out.
How large are the fragments resulting from this division?
If the fragments have any size/magnitude at all, we could further divide them.
Therefore, they must be fragments with no extension, like geometrical points.
But whatever can be divided into part can be put back together again. E.g., if we saw a log into many pieces we can put the pieces back together again.
But if our indivisible fragments have no magnitude/extension and are like geometrical points, we can not put geometrical points together and come up with a material object, even if we have an infinite number of geometrical points.
Therefore matter is not infinitely divisible, “and the smallest fragments must be bodies with sizes and shapes.”

Did Our Universe Create Itself Out of Nothing?

Here is Oxford mathematician John Lennox commenting on Stephen Hawking's claim that the universe created itself out of nothing.

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Prayer Summer 2014 Comes to an End

Thanks to all who joined me for Prayer Summer 2014.

If that's you I would like to keep sending you posts I'm writing for Prayer Life.

If you would like to stop receiving my posts just respond to my email and I'll remove you from my mailing list.

I am going to continue writing about prayer, praying, the spiritual life, and spiritual formation and transformation.

I am nearly finished with a first draft of my book, which I'm currently calling Praying: An Experiment In the Continuous Tense. I have talked with a publisher (and a friend in the publishing business - thank you) and hope to have my book out sometime in 2015.

Students in my Prayer class this fall will receive copies of my first draft. I'm looking forward to having them read it and respond. For information on this class see here.

Remember: Jesus prayed. Often. It was his habit, his custom. His "as usual."

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Praying Not to Be a Fake (Prayer Summer 2014)

Monroe County
Tomorrow morning at Redeemer I'm preaching out of 1 John 2:3-6. Here I am told that if I say I know God but don't follow God's commands, then I am a liar. The command John is especially referring to is the command to love one another. We know this because John talks about this letter's recipients and their unGodlike hatred of each other.

For several years now the #1 thing I am praying for myself is that God would form Christlike love in my heart that loves my enemies, not to mention my friends. I'm asking because I don't have it. Jesus did have it. I want his heart to be formed in me (Galatians 4:19). And, I don't want to say "I love God" but be a fake who does not love people.

I am praying for the greatest thing. I believe in supernatural healings. I have seen them. But love is greater than healings. Love will endure for eternity; love is heaven's modus operandi. As great and wonderful healings are, they are still a subset of the greater, all-encompassing reality that is the love of God. It's like this.

1. God so loved the world.
2. Out of his love God sent His Son to the world.

God heals people because, in the first place, God loves them. Love always comes first. It is possible to heal a person without loving them; it is not possible to love them and not desire their soul and body to be well. Or desire their release from indebtedness. The heart of authentic Jesus-faith is that love forgives. The inability to forgive is an indicator of the absence of love.

In Jerry Sittser's excruciating and hopeful A Grace Disguised Sittser's car containing himself, his mother-in-law, his wife, and his daughter was hit by a drunk driver. Only Sittser survived. The drunk driver was acquitted by a clever lawyer. Sittser writes of the agony of this injustice piled on the loss of his loved ones.

"During the months that followed the trial I thought often about the driver of the other car. I fantasized reading reports in the newspaper that he had died hideously or that he had committed a crime that put him behind bars for life. I wanted to see him suffer and pay for the wrong I believed he had done...

It eventually occurred to me that this preoccupation was poisoning me. It signaled that I wanted more than justice. I wanted revenge. I was beginning to harbor hatred in my heart. I was edging toward becoming an unforgiving person and using what appeared to be the failure of the judicial system to justify my unforgiveness. I wanted to punish the wrongdoer and get even. The very thought of forgiveness seemed abhorrent to me. I realized at that moment that I have to forgive. If not, I would be consumed by my own unforgiveness." (135)

The options are: Either consumed by the love of God that, among other things, forgives; or consumed by the poison of my own unforgiveness. The first option is freedom, the second bondage.

I am praying: God, produce the love that you have for humanity in my heart.

"God's Not Dead" - At Redeemer, Sept. 6

We're showing the movie God's Not Dead" at Redeemer.

When: Sat., Sept. 6, 6 PM.

Cost: Free.

I will lead a Q&A following the movie.

We'll serve refreshments afterwards.

I've reviewed it here.

If you are skeptical about God's existence, or have friends who are, bring them to the movie and be ready to ask questions afterwards - I'd love to have them there!