Monday, October 20, 2014

Speed Worship, and the Endless Desire Where There Is No Need

Foggy morning on the River Raisin
So many books, so little time to read them. 

I just added Columbia University religion professor Mark Taylor's new book to my amazon wish list - Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left. I was pointed to this book by Taylor's essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education - "Speed Kills: Fast Is Never Fast Enough." Taylor's essay is a nice complement to another book I'm currently reading - Slow Church: Cultivating Community In the Patient Way of Jesus

I like slow. Slow living increases productivity. Speed living kills the soul. I'm doing some "slow" today and experiencing life. All that's missing is some succulent Slow's BBQ, whose owners understand there are certain things in life that should not be microwaved. 

Our culture is obsessed with speed. The idea that speedy technology would give us more leisure time was an illusion. Many are trapped within the prisons of their quick-gadgets. Taylor writes: "Contrary to expectation, the technologies that were supposed to liberate us now enslave us, networks that were supposed to unite us now divide us, and technologies that were supposed to save time leave us no time for ourselves."

Social status used to be measured by how little a person works; now it is measured by how much a person works. "If you are not constantly connected, you are unimportant; if you willingly unplug to recuperate, play, or even do nothing, you become an expendable slacker."

The worship of fastness has created its own value system. "Good" is understood by words like individualism, utility, efficiency, productivity, competition, consumption, and speed. The Speed Regime has repressed values like sustainability, community, cooperation, generosity, patience, subtlety, deliberation, reflection, and slowness. Taylor argues that we must recover these repressed values to avoid a psychological, social, economic, and ecological meltdown.

"Speed," writes Taylor, "has limits. As acceleration accelerates, individuals, societies, economies, and even the environment approach meltdown. We have been conned into worshiping speed by an economic system that creates endless desire where there is no need."

There's a lot of helpful analysis in Taylor's essay. All who are concerned that the American Church has been seduced into the Babylonian Captivity of Speed should take note. By the rivers of this Babylon we've laid our instruments down, not because we have no songs to sing, but because we have no time to sing them.


To the Rwandan Pastor Who Contacted Me

To the pastor in Rwanda affiliated with the AME who called me yesterday: my email address is -

Abortion Is Not an "Act of Love"

Time magazine has a book review of Katha Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights. It's by Kate Manning - "The Choice. Pro makes a controversial case that abortion can be an act of love." 

Manning asks: "Who is the abortion debate really about? The answer here is that it should be about women, not embryos." With this one sentence Manning and presumably Pollitt spin the argument in their favor. If the inborn human is defined as "embryo" and not "person" then who could have a problem with abortion? If "embryo" means "non-person" I see no big deal about abortion since yesterday I ate a steak harvested from a mere animal, plus I killed a fly bothering us in the house.

Manning has the core question wrong. The big question prior to her idea of "what the abortion debate is really about" is: what is the status of the inborn human? Embryo or person? If the answer is "person," then it's morally wrong to take the life of another person even if it hinders me from "pursuing my dream." Note how Manning's statement shifts in meaning when we substitute 'person' for 'embryo': "Who is the abortion debate really about? The answer here is that it should be about women, not [other] persons." That makes me squeamish. Manning's argument is a red herring. 

What about an ectopic pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother? This is a tragic and difficult situation. But there's no logical claim of inference from the existence of an ectopic pregnancy to abortion rights. Not if the inborn child is a person, albeit not fully developed.

Manning's last sentence troubles me deeply. She writes: "the only thing making me squeamish these days is contemplating the dangerous measures women will resort to as abortion rights are lost and how women and children suffer as a consequence of government intrusion on the most sacred and private decision a woman can make: whether or not to bear a child." (But this is a slippery slope fallacy, correct?)

But it's not a private decision if it involves killing another person, at least in the sense that their right to life ought to be considered, even if they are cognitively unable to choose life for themselves. Please don't call that an act of love.

Our Identity in Christ, and a Beautiful Video

This is the video I showed yesterday at Redeemer. Our focus the last few weeks has been on our identity as followers of Jesus. Which includes (from 1 John 3):

1. I am agape-loved by God.

2. I am a child of God, adopted into the family of God.

Thomas Aquinas (for my MCCC Western Philosophy class)


1.    Explain Aquinas’ distinction between faith and reason.
a.    What is a contemporary example of this.
2.    Explain Aquinas’ argument for God’s existence from causation.

1.    Aquinas makes a famous distinction between faith and reason. (Kenny, 153)
Note: In philosophy, in the medieval period, all the major philosophers are either Jews (e.g. Maimonides), Christians, or Muslims (e.g. Averroes, Avicenna).
 “It is essentially to Aquinas that we owe the distinction, familiar to philosophers of modern times, between natural and revealed theology.” (153)
            Or: between faith and reason.
Suppose a philosopher makes an argument for a theological conclusion.
We can ask: are any of the premises taken from sacred scripture? Or have they been revealed in a private vision?
Or: are any of the premises facts of observation, or straightforward truths of reason?
If they are from sacred scripture or private visions, we are dealing with revealed theology.
If they are facts of observation or truths of reason, we are dealing with natural theology.
“Natural theology is a part of philosophy while revealed theology is not, even though theologians may use philosophical skills in seeking to deepen their understanding of sacred texts.” (153)
Analogy: a three-story house.
On the bottom floor reason and natural experience do their work without the need of any supernatural aid.
On the second floor we find things that are both revealed to us by God and demonstrated to us by reason. E.g. – the existence of God; the immortality of the soul.
On the third floor are truths that are beyond the capacity of natural intellect to discover. E.g., the internal nature of God as a 3-Personed being (Trinity) – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the historical fact of God’s becoming incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.
“Aquinas believed that there are some theological truths which can be reached by the unaided use of reason: for instance, the existence of God.” (153)
But some truths can only be known by revelation/faith; e.g., that our universe had a beginning.
Contemporary example – Gould’s NOMA. You can’t derive ‘ought’ from ‘is’.
            Religion and science.

Key ideas
  • Cosmological
    • From “cosmos,” which is Greek for “world.”
    • The cosmological argument moves from certain facts about the world, or the fact that there is a world, and reasons that God is the best explanation for these facts.

An Analogy:
You’re in your car, stopped at a red light, and are hit from behind. You want to know what caused this. You see that the car behind you was stopped but was itself hit from behind. So the car behind you cannot be the cause of your being hit. You look behind that car and notice that it also was hit from behind. And so on. Finally, you see the “first” cause – the car that caused all the other cars to have an accident.
Suppose, however, that it were an infinitely long pileup. Then no one would have started the chain reaction of accidents. But if no one started it, it would not have happened. Since it did happen, we can conclude that someone did start it. He is the first efficient uncaused cause.

This is Aristotelian thinking.

Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover”(89)

1. At least one thing, call it X, is in motion.
2. If X is in motion, then its motion must be caused.
3. If X's motion is caused, then the cause of that motion must be either a) a series of movers which are themselves moving or b) a series of movers that contains at least one unmoved mover.
4. A series of moved movers, even if it is an infinite series, cannot explain the motion of X.
5. Therefore, the motion of X must be explained in terms of the existence of an unmoved mover.

Since no thing (or series of things) can move (change) itself, there must be a first, Unmoved Mover, source of all motion.

Aquinas takes this reasoning and applies it to cause and effect.

Causation is a fact about the world.
    • Everything that happens has a cause.
    • That cause itself is the effect of some prior cause.
    • And that cause itself is also the effect of some prior cause.
    • And so on…   until we ultimately reach an uncaused cause, which is God.

Quoting Aquinas:

“In the observable world causes are found ordered in series: we never observe, nor ever could, something causing itself, for this would mean it preceded itself, and this is not possible. But a series of causes can’t go on forever, for in any such series an earlier member causes an intermediate and the intermediate a last (whether the intermediate be one or many). Now eliminating a cause eliminates its effects, and unless there’s a first cause there won’t be a last or an intermediate. But if a series of causes goes on fore ever it will have no first cause, and so no intermediate causes and no last effect, which is clearly false. So we are forced to postulate some first agent cause, to which everyone gives the name God.” (ST, 1a.3)

Efficient cause – a trigger that sets a process going. E.g., the spark that produces the explosion. E.g., the tap of a key that produces a letter on the computer screen.

This is causality in esse.

Aquinas is not thinking about causality in time.

    • This would make the cosmological argument say that what happens at the present moment is dependent on what happened in the moment prior to it.
    • Rather, Aquinas is saying that at any point in time there is a series of relationships of dependence that lead to God as the source of all change and all causation.
    • In other words, at this present moment God is the source of all change in an ultimate sense and the cause of there being something rather than nothing.

Kenny – “the series of efficient causes in the world must lead to an uncaused cause.” (152)

For more explanation:

These efficient causes are ordered in a series.
We never find that something is the efficient cause of itself. The spark may cause the explosion; but the spark cannot be the cause of the spark.

To be its own cause it would have to preexist itself, and that is absurd. It cannot exist before it exists!

The spark itself requires another efficient cause, perhaps a hammer striking a rock.

If you take away the cause, you take away the effect. No hammer, no spark; no spark, no explosion; no explosion, no….

What we find in our world is that one cause depends on another for its existence.

This order does not have to be a temporal order, or an order in time.

E.g., my cheek depresses simultaneously with my finger pushing on it.

The cause of my cheek depressing is my finger pushing it. But here the cause is not prior in time.

    • This is called causality in esse. It is not a temporal causality.

Now note: Something causes my finger to push my cheek in. Simultaneously. And something simultaneously causes that.

Could this series of causes (causal dependency) go on forever (be infinite)? Aquinas says no. Because if the causal series was infinite, there would be no cause that is “first.” A first cause is needed, because if there was not a first cause the sequence of effects would never happen.

A “first” cause would be one on which the whole causal order depended, while it depended on nothing outside itself.

If there was no first cause, then there would be no intermediate causes, and no ultimate effects.

But there are causes and effects. Therefore there must be a first cause. And that is what everyone calls God.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Praying, Prophesy, and Humilty (PrayerLife)

Humility is the foundational attitude for spiritual formation and transformation. Humility is foundational for prayer, since conversational prayer requires listening, and to really listen we must be humble.

Jack Deere has some good things on "humility" from his excellent, clearly-written little book TheBeginner's Guide to the Gift of Prophecy. Here are some highlights.[1]
  • God values and esteems a humble person. "This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word."[2]
  • The humble hear and understand the voice of God. God deals with the proud from a distance, but with the humble "it's up close and personal."
  • Sermons on humility are rare. Deere writes (astonishingly!): "I've never heard a sermon or a theological lecture on humility. I've heard lots of sermons on faithfulness, service, purity, giving, judgment, grace, mercy, obedience, prayer, meditation and spiritual gifts, but I can't remember ever hearing humility talked about."  
  • "Humility is the virtue to which our flesh is most opposed, because it is the soil from which so many other virtues grow."
  • "Humble people are small in their own eyes." Listen to what the prophet Samuel said to Saul:  “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.”[3]
  • "Humility is not the denial of our attributes; it is believing in our hearts that our best qualities are not good enough to cause us to deserve God's attention, or even to gain us the lowest position of service to Him."
  • "Humble people know it is not their physical strength, nor their intelligence, nor their luck, but the Lord who determines the outcome (see Prov. 21:31; 16:9, 23)."
  • "Humble people put their confidence in the mercy of God rather than in their abilities or character (see Rom. 9:15-16)."
  • "Humble people put their confidence in the Holy Spirit's ability to speak, not in their ability to hear. Humble people put their confidence in Jesus' ability to lead, not in their ability to follow."
  • "Humble people are willing to associate with and serve people of lower position, just as Jesus and our Father do."
  • "Humble people have learned to embrace their weaknesses."
  • We can't get humility by reading about it. "No one becomes humble without pain doing its work. Often that pain takes the form of desert experiences. Humility is almost always acquired in the desert."
  • "The desert is necessary because no human being has the character to bear perpetual success."[4]
  • Acquire humility by hanging around humble people. "Humility is produced by pain, being with Jesus, being with humble people and is a life-long process (see Phil. 3:12-14)."

Francis Frangipane once referred to pride as "the armor of darkness."[5] C.S. Lewis called pride "the complete anti-God state of mind."[6] If our hearts are proud we won't hear from God, which makes it unlikely that we will truly prophesy (in the sense of 1 Cor. 14:1-4).

How important is humility, when it comes to the desire to prophesy? Mike Bickle writes: "This is not a good time for a "know-it-all," but rather it's the proper time for the virtue of humility expressed in a teachable spirit as we go to greater depths in the prophetic."[7]

I am praying "Lord, teach me humility."

[1] Jack Deere, The Beginner’s Guide to Prophecy, 72 ff.
[2] Isaiah 66:2
[3] 1 Samuel 15:17
[4] Ib., 75, emphasis mine
[5] Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds
[6] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
[7] Mike Bickle, Growing In the Prophetics, x

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Praying a Miracle (PrayerLife)

Monroe County

A friend from Brazil asked me - "Do you remember the first miracle you saw and what was it like?" I do. It was like this.

I was five years old. My mother came in my bedroom and told me that our pet canary had died. The birdcage was in another room. I went, followed by my mother, and saw the canary. It was on its back lying on the floor of the cage. It was not moving. I was crying.

I went to my bedroom and was sobbing and praying "God, please make my canary live!" I can't remember how long I was doing this. My mother came into my room and said, "John, come with me and look!" I followed her to the room where our dead canary lay. I was afraid to go and have to see it again. We went into the room and there was the canary, sitting on its swing, like nothing had happened.

I went back to my room, happy, and after a few minutes it was like this sad incident never happened.

Here's what I know.

1. My mother and I saw the canary on the cage floor, on its back, legs pointed skyward, not moving. We were eyewitnesses of this.
2. I prayed, asking God to bring my canary back.
3. Minutes later we saw the canary alive and sitting on its swing. (More eyewitness testimony.)

Was the canary really dead? I can't prove this. We didn't check its heartbeat. Did it die and come back to life? That's what mother and I thought. Again, I cannot prove this. But what I do know is that 1-3 above are true.  

I also know one more thing. I came out of that day believing God can raise the dead, and that where my praying focuses God's power falls. 

The More You Spend On a Wedding, the More Likely You Will Divorce

(Thanks to John V. for sending this to me.)

From the Wall Street Journal:

See the WSJ video "Does a Big Wedding Equal an Unhappy Marriage?"

See my post "The $20 Wedding."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Plantinga's Free Will Defense Against the Logical Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

The river in our backyard

"Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. Indeed, granted compatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of God is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God."
- Atheist philosopher William Rowe, "The Evidential Argument from Evil," in Peterson et. al., Philosophy ofReligion: Selected Readings, Fourth Edition, p. 331, fn. 1)

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students)

Philosopher-atheist J.L. Mackie constructs an argument from evil intended to show the incoherence of theism. One cannot, thinks Mackie, simultaneously affirm the following three propositions (known as "Mackie's Triad"):

1) God is all-powerful.
2) God is all-good.
3) Evil exists.

Just as one cannot simultaneously affirm:

1) John is a bachelor.
2) John's wife's name is Linda.


1) Object X is square.
2) Object X is circular.

With this last example, we see that there is no possible world where an object, X, can be at the same time square and circular. There is, e.g., a possible world where a talking sponge can exist; i.e., it is logically possible that a talking sponge can exist. The term "talking sponge" is not logically impossible (logically incoherent). But "square circle" is. Mackie's claim is that theism, the idea of an all-powerful, all-good being, is incoherent on the existence of evil. That is, one cannot imagine a possible world where an all-powerful, all-good being coexists with evil.

As convincing as Mackie's argument sounds, it is false. To defeat Mackie all one would have to show is that there is a possible world (or there are possible worlds) where the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful being is compatible (coherent) with the existence of evil. This has been done. (Note: this is modal logic stuff.)

Nearly all philosophers, to include atheists such as William Rowe, believe Alvin Plantinga has defeated Mackie's logical argument, and that therefore theism is not incoherent. All Plantinga needs to do is show that there is a possible world in which Mackie's Triad can be affirmed. If Mackie's Triad was logically inconsistent then there could be no possible world where an all-powerful, all-loving being existed with the existence of evil.

Plantinga does this by showing:

1) It is possible that God has given persons libertarian free will.
2) It is possible that God has counterfactual knowledge.
3) It is possible that transworld depravity exists.

"Libertarian free will" is: making a choice (such as, e.g., a moral choice) that is not fully reducible to antecedent causal conditions.

To say that God could have counterfactual knowledge is to say that God knows the truth value of future conditional statements that describe possible states of affairs. (Note: if one thinks that God's counterfactual knowledge eliminates free will they have just made an error in modal logic - see here.)

By "transworld depravity" Plantinga means: in all possible worlds human agents will commit at least one evil act.

If, then, there is a possible world where libertarian free will exists and God knows what choices John will make, and knows that John will choose, on at least one occasion, evil, then God cannot make a world where John is faced with that choice and chooses good. This is because it would violate John's free will.

But what if, Mackie asks, God made a world where all persons on all occasions chose good? Plantinga responds by saying that it is possible transworld depravity exists. If so, then we have a world where one can affirm the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving (as well as all-knowing) God exists, as does evil.

Nagel on Plantinga: Materialistic Naturalism Has Not Proposed a Credible Solution for Trusting Our Rational Faculties

New York Review of Books has an essay on Alvin Plantinga's theism by atheist Thomas Nagel. ("A Philosopher Defends Religion") Now that... is very cool! (If you are a philosopher and haven't read Nagel's "What Is it Like to be a Bat?" what is your problem?)

Since I've read Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, here we go with some Nagel-bullets.

  • Atheists, writes Nagel, tend to believe that science is on their side. Not so, claims Plantinga.
  • Plantinga's "overall claim is that “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.”"
  • By "naturalism" Plantinga means "the view that the world describable by the natural sciences is all that exists, and that there is no such person as God, or anything like God."
  • Nagel appreciates Plantinga as a theist who is "the real thing." It is refreshing to see such a sophisticated and lucid account by someone who holds to Christian theism.
  • Plantinga's three claims in "Conflict" are: 1) "the theistic conception of the relation between God, the natural world, and ourselves makes it reasonable for us to regard our perceptual and rational faculties as reliable. It is therefore reasonable to believe that the scientific theories they allow us to create do describe reality;" 2) "the naturalistic conception of the world, and of ourselves as products of unguided Darwinian evolution, makes it unreasonable for us to believe that our cognitive faculties are reliable, and therefore unreasonable to believe any theories they may lead us to form, including the theory of evolution. In other words, belief in naturalism combined with belief in evolution is self-defeating; and 3) "we can reasonably believe that we are the products of evolution provided that we also believe, contrary to naturalism, that the process was in some way guided by God."
  • Plantinga is concerned with the epistemological matter of: How can we know if one of our beliefs is true? Here is where the idea of "warrant" and "properly basic beliefs" enters the discussion.
  • Nagel explains "properly basic belief." He writes: "The basic belief-forming capacities include perception, memory, rational intuition (about logic and arithmetic), induction, and some more specialized faculties, such as the ability to detect the mental states of others... Beliefs that are formed in the basic way are not infallible: they may have to be given up in the face of contrary evidence. But they do not have to be supported by other evidence in order to be warranted—otherwise knowledge could never get started. And the general reliability of each of these unmediated types of belief-formation cannot be shown by appealing to any of the others:
    [Quoting Plantinga] 'Rational intuition enables us to know the truths of mathematics and logic, but it can’t tell us whether or not perception is reliable. Nor can we show by rational intuition and perception that memory is reliable, nor (of course) by perception and memory that rational intuition is.'" 
  •  Warranted beliefs "must result from the proper functioning of a faculty that is in fact generally reliable. We cannot prove without circularity that the faculties of perception, memory, or reason are generally reliable, but if they are, then the true beliefs we form when they are functioning properly constitute knowledge unless they are put in doubt by counterevidence." For example, to prove that the faculties of perception (seeing, et. al.) are reliable one would have to rely on the veridicality of the faculties of perception. Which is circular.
  • "Faith" is similar in some ways, and different on other ways. Faith is not part of our ordinary epistemic equipment. Faith, on Christian theism, is a gift from God. "God endows human beings with a sensus divinitatis that ordinarily leads them to believe in him. (In atheists the sensus divinitatis is either blocked or not functioning properly.)"
  • Faith is "a kind of cause that provides a warrant for theistic belief."
  • Plantinga believes that "the theistic conception explains beautifully why science is possible: the fit between the natural order and our minds is produced intentionally by God. Nagel writes: Plantinga "is also right to maintain that naturalism has a much harder time accounting for that fit. Once the question is raised, atheists have to consider whether their view of how we got here makes it at all probable that our cognitive faculties should enable us to discover the laws of nature."
  • Plantinga "argues that on the naturalist view of evolution, interpreted materialistically, there would be no reason to think that our beliefs have any relation to the truth. On that view beliefs are states of the brain, and natural selection favors brain mechanisms solely on the basis of their contribution, via behavior, to survival and reproduction. The content of our beliefs, and hence their truth or falsehood, is irrelevant to their survival value. “Natural selection is interested, not in truth, but in appropriate behavior.”"
  • Though an atheist, Nagel thinks Plantinga's reasoning is "powerful." Nagel writes: "Christians, says Plantinga, can “take modern science to be a magnificent display of the image of God in us human beings.” Can naturalists say anything to match this, or must they regard it as an unexplained mystery?"
Nagel concludes with these words:

"I say this as someone who cannot imagine believing what he believes. But even those who cannot accept the theist alternative should admit that Plantinga’s criticisms of naturalism are directed at the deepest problem with that view—how it can account for the appearance, through the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry, of conscious beings like ourselves, capable of discovering those laws and understanding the universe that they govern. Defenders of naturalism have not ignored this problem, but I believe that so far, even with the aid of evolutionary theory, they have not proposed a credible solution. Perhaps theism and materialist naturalism are not the only alternatives."