Tuesday, June 29, 2004

"The Terminal," Grace, and Redemption

I saw "The Terminal" last night. It's a movie about grace, purity, love, and redemption. Tom Hanks plays the redemptive figure who, by his refusal to aquiesce to Stanley Tucci's hypocritical law-filled, immoral seductions, remains focused on his life mission. In the process many in the terminal find redemption. Even Tucci's blind servants see the truth and walk into the spiritual freedom that Hanks' moral purity and grace proscribes. Some, like the Russian man with the illegal prescription drugs to save his dying father, are saved, set free, and can only bow in worship and gratitude. The very hand that extends in mercy is raised as the symbol of hope and freedom. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the deeply conflicted flight attendant who has allowed her identity to be swallowed up by pretenders to love. Zeta-Jones cannot take the final step into pure love and freedom. Hanks finally returns to his homeland, having accomplished his father's mission and much more.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Objective Moral Values and God's Existence

A moral relativist believes right and wrong are relative to individuals and cultures. Moral values are "subjective." Therefore moral values are not objective.
If there are no objective moral values, and moral values are only subjective, then moral values are not binding on persons. Moral values then become matters of personal taste.
Only if there exist objective moral values can such moral values be binding on persons. Only if there is a God can there exist objective moral values. Objective moral values do exist. Therefore, God exists. For more on this see William Lane Craig's article "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality."
Note: Nietzsche and others have affirmed that atheism implies no objective "good" and no objective "evil." One goes "beyond good and evil" and is left only with "power." I find Nietzsche's atheism convincing in the sense that, were I an atheist, his views on the senselessness of objectively binding moral values follows consistently from the premise of there being no God.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Tolstoy on Self-Pity

Tolstoy, in The Death of Ivan Ilych, describes the sickness of self-pity in detail:
"What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and the only need keep quiet and undergo a treatment and then something very good would result… The awful, terrible act of his dying was, he could see, reduced by those about him to the level of a casual, unpleasant, and almost indecorous incident (as if someone entered a drawing room defusing an unpleasant odour) and this was done by that very decorum which he had served all his life long. He saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to grasp his position… [W]hat most tormented Ivan Ilych was that no one pitied him as he wished to be pitied. At certain moments after prolonged suffering he wished most of all (though he would have been ashamed to confess it) for someone to pity him as a sick child is pitied. He longed to be petted and comforted."”

Friday, June 25, 2004

Metallica and Ontological Dichotomies

Henri Nouwen has said that the deeper you go inside a person the more universal the experience becomes. My own research and work in spiritual direction confirms this. I have found that there are what I call "ontological dichotomies" that all persons share such as, e.g., trust vs. control.
This means that cultural differences, though real, are on the surface and in a sense superficial. The deeper you go, the more we are all alike, no matter how we dress. Ontological dichotomies are cross cultural, cross-temporal, cross-ethnic, and cross-gender. Whether a person is 90 or 9, issues of, e.g., trust vs. control lie deep.
Recently this was confirmed to me in yet another way. I picked up last Sunday's New York Times and read the magazine article on Metallica . The band has spent a lot of time in counseling therapy with a man named Philip Towle. Towle writes: ''If you strip down all human beings to their core, you'll find the same stuff,'' claims Towle, who calls himself a ''performance enhancement coach'' (he is not a trained psychologist or psychiatrist). ''You will find fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of being controlled, fear of being unloved and the desire to love and be loved. That becomes more complicated with hard-rock bands, because -- when you exist in a mode of instant gratification -- you're never hungry for depth of intimacy. Sex, drugs and booze are glorified in rock 'n' roll, but those are really just symptoms of the desire for relief.''
Which again shows that, deep down, the members of Metallica are no different than The Osmonds.

Experience and Logic

One of the philosophy classes I teach at our county community college is Logic. Logic seems to be hard-wired into persons. For example, if one were to deny that logic is hard-wired into persons one would have to use logic to do so. That is, the argument against logic would itself have to have a conclusion supported by one or more premises, the conclusion must follow logically from the premises (i.e., the argument must be formally valid), and the premises must be true.
One cannot meaningfully argue non-logically against the universality of logic. When one tries to do so, or does so without hardly trying, the result often is that informal logical fallacies are committed.
I have heard some say that postmoderns are not interested in logic but value experience above logic. But even if this is true, an experiential postmodern person would have to use logic to make a case that experience is to be preferred above logic.

The Meaning of 'Meaning'

Does life have ultimate meaning? To answer this question we need to ask: what is the meaning of 'meaning'?
I define 'meaning' as: situatedness within a context. The reason we didn't get the meaning of a joke is that, as one sometimes says, "You had to be there." To understand a joke one must share the context in which the joke is situated. To understand the meaning of a foreign word one must be situated within the particular linguistic context.
Meaning is contextual. If there were no context, there would be no meaning.
So, does your life, my life, have ultimate meaning? Only if it has a place within a coherent context.
If there is no Creator God, there is no coherent, cosmic context. If no context, no meaning, because 'meaning' is situatedness within a context. Jean-Paul Sartre understood this, and believed that in a godless universe life has no meaning or purpose beyond the goals that each man sets for himself. In Being and Nothingness Sartre wrote: "Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth." Which is to say: without God human life has no ultimate, cosmic meaning. Without God, there is no "grander scheme of things."
Commenting on Sartre, philosopher Leslie Stevenson writes: "There is no ultimate meaning or purpose inherent in human life; in this sense life is 'absurd'. We are 'forlorn', 'abandoned' in the world to look after ourselves completely. Sartre insists that the only foundation for values is human freedom, and that there can be no external or objective justification for the values anyone chooses to adopt." (Seven Theories of Human Nature)
Sartre is correct. Atheists who attempt to give life meaning are only spinning absurdities out of their own isolated existences. Only if a God who created the universe exists can our lives have meaning.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Free Will and Materialistic Reductionism

If there is no God, then persons are entirely the result of materialistic processes.
If persons are the result of materialistic processes, then persons do not have "souls."
The person who believes that we are only the result of materialistic processes is a philosophical materialist.
Free will is a problem for the philosophical materialist. It becomes difficult for the philosophical materialistic (= everything is matter and explicable in terms of material causality) to explain "free will."
One of the best contemporary examples of a philosophical materialist attempting to show that free will is compatible with determinism and indeterminism (this is called "compatibleism") is Owen Flanagan in his book The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them.
Flanagan writes: "The mind is the brain - mental life is realized in our brains - and it is subject to natural laws" (p. 145) This means that all mental events have a cause which is either deterministic or indeterministic. There are no uncaused mental events. Thus, no mental events are - in a Cartesian sense - purely free.
Flanagan is saying the following:
1) The Cartesian view of mental events is false.
2) There is no God

3) Therefore, because there is no God, and because Cartesian free will is logically absurd, there must be another explanation for moral agency.
I think Flanagan's book is very well-written. It serves as an excellent example of what a person does with free will if they are a philosophical materialist.
Here are some thoughts I have about Flanagan's book.
#1 - I feel he has a false dichotomy when he contrasts Cartesian disembodied mental activity with his physicalist alternative. It's true that, e.g., some Christians were influenced by Descartes' mind-body dualism. But Judeo-Christianity is precisely not mind-body dualism. Thus for Flanagan to reject Descartes is not the same as rejecting Christians who argue for the reality of persons as psycho-physical agencies and as having a soul. (USC prof. of philosophy Dallas Willard , for example.)
#2 - Flanagan's arguments for the implausibility of God are weak. For example, Flanagan dismisses the idea that God exists, using a very weak and uninformed criticism of the cosmological argument. He does not take into account the more powerful versions of this argument as presented by William Lane Craig .
#3 - Flanagan cannot get away from Cartesian language himself in putting forth his argument against Descartes. Is Flanagan's belief that Descartes is wrong causally determined? If so, why believe it to be true? He addresses this objection on pp. 149-150, which is good. But I s explanation weak and reasoning circular. Is "Flanagan" able to modify future actions? it's hard to see how he can take any credit for such modification if the mind is only the brain. I still find myself wondering how a neo-compatibilist like Flanagan can "know" that something is "true."

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Borgmann, Technology, and Culture

One of the books I am now reading is Power Failure: Christianity In the Culture of Technology, by philosopher Albert Borgmann. Here are some deep Borgmann quotes:
"There is at least a drowsy and perhaps even a dawning sense in the contemporary culture that the paradigmatic blessings of technology are vacuous."
"All color, flavor, and texture has been bleached from material culture. It has been reduced to one aspect, namely, of power. The distribution of goods is taken to be crucially and finally a distribution of power."
"Material culture in the advanced industrial democracies spans a spectrum from commanding to disposable reality. The former reality calls forth a life of engagement that is oriented within the physical and social world. The latter induces a life of distraction that is isolated from the environment and from other people. There are pairs of terms that detail further the styles of life corresponding to the end points of the cultural continuum, namely, excellent vs. banal, deep vs. shallow, communal vs. individualist, celebratory vs. consumerist, and others."

Monday, June 21, 2004

ID Theory & Neo-Darwinism

Intelligent Design (ID) theorists are challenging neo-Darwinian macroevolutionary theorists. A growing number of scientists and scholars are finding neo-Darwinist explanations insufficient to explain biological complexity. For example, biotic things appear to be like machines. If biotic things are like machines then they are, as Michael Behe claims in his book Darwin's Black Box, "irreducibly complex." Irreducibly complex organisms cannot be explained by neo-Darwinism precisely because partially made machines confer no selective evolutionary advantage. Thus Behe quotes Darwin himself, writing in The Origin of Species: "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." Many machines not only are not formed this way but could not have formed this way. If biotic organisms are really like machines, then Darwin's explanation fails.

The Passion of the Christ

When Linda and I saw “The Passion of the Christ” we stayed until the film credits were over. While we were both emotionally and spiritually moved, Linda had not cried until she heard an older man who was sitting right behind us say, “If that were really true, it would be the most perfect story ever.” I now want to speak to you about this issue of “truth” and the resurrection.
In my Philosophy of Religion course at our community college we are talking about death and the afterlife. The book we use includes the opinions of atheists, Hindus, and various kinds of theists (people who believe in God). I also teach about what Buddhists and Muslims believe happens to a person when they die, and what they say about how to get to the afterlife.
I also teach what, as a Christian, I believe. I spent an entire Wednesday evening sharing with and teaching my students about this. I began by telling them, “I want you to know that I really believe this. I am passionate about this. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
There are 35 students in my class. It’s a wonderful group to be with, and includes Christians, agnostics (people who don’t know what to believe about God), and atheists. I feel the class likes and respects me, and I feel the same way about them. So as I began to share about what I, their professor, believes about death and the afterlife, I did so with enthusiasm, and also an awareness of a spiritual battle now happening in that classroom. Here, briefly, is what I shared that evening.
First, I told the class that the truth of Christianity rises or falls with the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:17 – “If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” While it is true that our experience with Christ means very much, the truth of our faith is grounded in an historical fact. Jesus really rose from the dead. Without this, we’re fools for being Christians. With this, we have the foundation for our hope in heaven.
Second, I had the class read an article by the Christian scholar William Lane Craig. (You can access this article here.) Bill Craig is a friend of mine (I was in his wedding many years ago), and I have thanked God for his tremendous ministry in defending our faith. In this article Bill makes an argument for the resurrection that goes likes this:
1) The appearances of Jesus after he died can be shown to be historically true
2) Nearly all biblical scholars believe the empty tomb is an historical fact
3) The best explanation for the beginning of the Christian movement is the real resurrection of Jesus
4) Therefore, it is most reasonable to believe in the actual, historical resurrection of Jesus
I then began to explain and argue for #s 1, 2, and 3. I shared with the students the idea that Christianity is an historical religion rooted and grounded in historical details and facts. Some asked questions. All took notes. As far as I could tell the class was thinking with me about Jesus and His resurrection.
Which now brings me back to the man in the theater. The story of the cross and resurrection of the Christ is the most “perfect story” ever. It is the greatest Love Story of all time. But it is not just a story. After talking about what a waste our lives would be as Christians if Jesus had not actually risen in history, Paul then writes: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Historical reasoning presents a strong inductive argument that it really happened. Thus our hope in everlasting life is grounded in historical truth.

The Cause of Disappointment

"Disenchantment comes not from failure but from success. It is success which disappoints us because we had so thoroughly expected it to be the crown of life."
- Emilie Griffith, Turning

Life's Basic Question

Henri Nouwen writes, "The basic question of the spiritual life is: 'Who do you belong to?'"

Refuse to Offer the Sacrifice of Fools

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy; but I have come so that you might have life, and life to the fullest.” As I see it, the “thief” wants three things from us:
1. Our experience of the loving presence of God
2. Our response of loving God back
3. Our act of giving this love away to others
How does the thief do this? By fulfilling his “job description,” which is “accuser.” Fault-finder. Finger-pointer. Judger. This has been Satan’s strategy from Genesis 3:12 through Revelation 12:10. The “fault-finder” works in two ways. First, he works internally, inside us. He whispers words like “You are nobody,” “No one likes you,” “You will never succeed,” “You are a failure in God’s eyes,” and so on and on. Secondly, he works through other people to communicate to us these things. I believe that Satan’s greatest pleasures are when he succeeds in tempting Christian brothers and sisters to whisper and murmur such accusations through the ungodly vehicles of gossip and slander. In Romans 1:28-31 gossip and slander are marks of evil, wickedness, and a depraved mind. As this mentally depraved activity happens “life to the fullest” gets stolen, destroyed, and killed. That’s horrible, isn’t it? What can we do? Here are some things the Bible tells us so we can have victory in this area and thus release more people into the loving presence of God.
1. Refuse to offer the “sacrifice of fools.” This “sacrifice” is described in Ecclesiastes 5:1-2. The “sacrifice of fools” is to “be quick with your mouth and hasty in your heart.” The remedy is to “let your words be few.”
2. Meditate in your heart on whatever things are good, true, and beautiful (Phil. 4:8). That which is meditated on in the heart comes out of the mouth. Meditate on the faults of other people and guess what comes out of the mouth? Note the intimate link between what goes on in the heart and what comes out of the mouth in Psalm 19:14 – “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
3. Resolve that your mouth will not sin. Psalm 17:3 states, “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.” Decide not to sin with your mouth. Can you do it? One of the enemy’s lies is the whisper “You’ll never succeed at this.” But that is another of Satan’s deceiving strategies. Remember – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And, you’ll sleep better at night.
The thief’s strategy is to get the followers of Jesus so much in disunity that a powerful corporate voice cannot unite in its focus and praise of our Savior. This angers me. I want to see every one of you experience the Christ and His promised “life to the fullest.” Therefore let us make our heart-meditations the good, true, and beautiful things of God and our mouths will follow in united praise to our King Who visited our world and remains by His Spirit to offer life like we’ve never known it before.

Plantinga's Argument Against Evolutionary Naturalism

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga's argument against evolutionary naturalism goes like this:
1) If purely natural, random evolutionary processes created our cognitive faculties, then our cognitive faculties are not reliable tools for finding truth.
2) Evolutionary purposes do not have truth in mind, only adaptability anbd survivability.
3) Therefore to use our cognitive faculties to attempt to discover truth is to use them in a way contrary to their nature.
4) The evolutionist must therefore agree that any use of one's cognitive faculties to argue for the truth of evolution is misguided.
Plantinga writes: “if the general reliability of our cognitive faculties is under question, we can’t hope to answer the question whether they are reliable by pointing out that these faculties themselves deliver the belief that they are, in fact, reliable.”

That would be logically contradictory.

As Louis Pojman says in his philosophy of religion text, Plantinga’s argument against the belief that evolutionary naturalism is true goes like this:

1. Naturalistic evolution caused us to develop our cognitive faculties in ways conducive to survival, not truth.
2. If naturalistic evolution is true, there is no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties are reliable.
3. If you’ve used your cognitive faculties to come to believe in evolutionary naturalism, you have a defeater for the conclusion that evolutionary naturalism is true.
4. Therefore you ought not believe that evolutionary naturalism is true.
Darwin wrote: "With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"

William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God

1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2) The universe began to exist.
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

This is the logical form of William Lane Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God. Let's evaluate it.

Formally, it is valid. That is, if premises 1 & 2 are true, the conclusion (3) necessarily follows.

Premise 1 seems to be true. To prove it false one would have to show that there exists at least one thing that came into existence without being caused.

Premise 2 is true, Craig says, for two reasons.

a) The first reason premise 2 is true is that an actual infinite is impossible. Actual infinity is a mathematical concept that can have no applications because it would lead to logical absurdities. See Craig's article "The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe" right here.

b) The second reason is that science confirms that our universe began to exist. This is the conclusion, reconfirmed continuously, of cosmology.

But why must the cause be God? The cause of the universe must be God because the cause must be nontemporal (when the universe began to exist time began to exist), nonphysical (when the universe began to exist matter began to exist), extremely powerful, and creative (personal agency). These attributes - nontemporality, nonphysicality, powerful, and creative - cause us to inductively infer that God is the cause of our universe.