Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bring In the New Year With Worship at Redeemer!


Seamless, continuous live worship at Redeemer Fellowship Church tonight from 9 PM to 1 AM.

Snacks after midnight.

I invite you to come join us and worship in the new year!

Redeemer Fellowship Church

5305 Evergreen

Monroe, MI

734-242-5277

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Anyone For Global Repentance?



This picture, which I just saw on Reuters, breaks my heart. It's one of their "best photos from the past 24 hours." Here's the explanation as well.

"A Palestinian father of five young girls, who were killed in an Israeli air strike, mourns as he holds his wounded son, during their funeral in Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip December 29, 2008. Palestinian medics said five young sisters died in an air strike in Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza and three other young children were killed when a bomb struck a house aimed at the nearby abandoned home of a senior Hamas militant in Rafah."
Hamas - why have you continued to launch rockets into Israel? You are responsible for this.
Israel - you did this. Was there no other alternative? We live in this sick world of earthly kingdoms in conflict. Regarding this nothing has changed.
Hamas and Israel - can you rationalize your way out of this? NOTHING justifies this. We all should get on our knees and repent of the sickness we continue to bring into this world. Anybody for global repentance? Anyone willing to lead the way?
Needed: a different kind of kingdom.

What To Spend Your Life On In 2009




On Sunday, December 28, I preached out of John 12, which is the story of a dinner given in honor of Jesus. The dinner takes place at the home of a man called Simon the Leper. Probably, Simon is not a leper anymore. If he was, then he wouldn’t have a house. His leprosy has been cured. Arguably, it was Jesus who cured him, since there weren’t any other cures available.


Also at the dinner is Lazarus, the man Jesus raised from the idea in the village of Bethany. The name of that village today, in Israel, is El-Eizarya, which means “the place of Lazarus.” Ancient Bethany is famous because of Lazarus, who was brought back to life by Jesus.


Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus are at the dinner. So are Jesus’ disciples, to include Judas.


Martha, as usual, is serving – cooking, cleaning, making sure everyone’s needs are being taken care of. Imagine how grateful Martha and Mary must have been, to be sitting there with their once-dead brother Lazarus, in the home of ex-leper Simon?

Mary’s heart cannot be contained. She has brought with her a special gift for this occasion, a pint of a perfume called nard. This was worth, at that time, a year’s salary for an average worker. New Testament scholar Ben Witherington suggests this pint of expensive nard would have been an inheritance Mary had. It would be like your retirement savings, your 401K (if you have one), your entire Social Security pension.


Mary pours her entire 401K on the feet of Jesus, in a lavish, extravagant act of humility and love. She gives everything she has to him. Why? Because he has brought her brother back to life. If someone did that for you, how much would it be worth? Jesus tells the people that in doing this Mary has done “a beautiful thing.”


It’s at this point that we hear the voice of Judas, for the very first time in the gospels. Judas says, “I object! It’s a total waste of money! We could have sold this perfume and given it to the poor!” John 12 tells us Judas could have cared less about the poor. He did care, a lot, about money. He was the “treasurer” of the disciples, the “keeper of the money bag.” He would have liked the perfume to be sold, and the money placed into the bag he carried, because he often took out of the bag money to spend on himself.


The life of Judas is tragic. Because he has just spent almost three years walking and living and eating with Jesus. He had seen Jesus calm a storm, heal sick people, deliver people from demons, give to the poor, reach out to prostitutes and tax collectors, and even raise a dead person. In the midst of the most lavish act of love so far seen in the gospels, Judas says “what a waste.”


I’m now thinking about these two responses. I do not want to be Judas-like and quench extravagant acts of love to Jesus. I do want to be like Mary, whose love knows no bounds, being a sacrificial love that gives all to her Savior. Why would anyone do this? Why would I do this? Because I would not have a life if it were not for what Jesus did for me years ago when I finally called out to him. He rescued me out of a very dark place, and gave me much, much more than I ever deserved. How much “money” is that worth to me? If he’s done this to you, how much “money” is that worth to you?


I am sure the answer is: it’s worth giving everything we have to him and in service to him and to the cause of his beautiful kingdom, the purpose of which is to release captives from bondage and darkness.


In 2009 spend your entire life, your whole being, on Jesus and his Kingdom. Love him extravagantly.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Thing Muslims Fear the Most



The beginning of the end has begun. The thing Muslims fear more than Christianity, Westernization, is growing in the garden of Islam.

See today's nytimes.com - "Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book." The book is The Taqwacores, by Michael Muhammed Knight. I pre-ordered it today.

"The novel’s title combines “taqwa,” the Arabic word for “piety,” with “hardcore,” used to describe many genres of angry Western music." It's a novel about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.

"The novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture."

Young disaffected Muslims have been reading this for five years. Now, it's going to be a movie. For a lot of young American Muslims the book has become "a blueprint for their lives."

But one cannot be both Muslim and punk. One cannot be Muslim and criticize the Koran. One can't be Muslim and listen to Western music, drink, smoke pot, and lead prayers if you're a woman. The Taqwacores violates all these and more.

Muhammed Knight sounds like he's ona quest for the original Muhammed. Knight "said he wrote “The Taqwacores” to mend the rift between his being an observant Muslim and an angry American youth. He found validation in the life of Muhammad, who instructed people to ignore their leaders, destroy their petty deities and follow only Allah." Here's where I can see the whole thing breaking down, since Muhammed is definitely not Jesus, historically.

I'm looking forward to reading The Taqwacores as a way of following this attempt to reconstruct Islam according to Western values.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How Could Judas Be "Keeper of the Money Bag?"



In John 12:4-6 we read, after Mary sister of Lazarus anoints Jesus' feet with a pint of very expensive perfume, and then wipes his feeet with her hair: "4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it."

How could it be true that Judas was keeper of the money bag?

Craig Keener says this would not be a story later people would make up about Judas because of what’s called “the criterion of embarrassment... It is likely that Judas’s role as treasurer stems from genuine historical tradition... Appointing someone who misadminstrated funds could be scandalous, all the more if the one who mad the appointment were now claimed to be omniscient.” (Keener, John Vol. 2, 865)

Ernest Saari - December 17, 2008

My uncle Ernie died on December 17. Ernie was my mother's younger brother. Uncle Ernie and Aunt Ann have lived on the family farm in Elo, Michigan. Ernie was (I think) born there and never left.

My musical ability comes from my mother's side of the family. I remember Ernie as a self-taught musician who could, it seemed to me, play any instrument he out his hands to.

Ernie farmed the land, sold Husqvarna chain saws, raised dairy cattle, and built sauna stoves (among other jobs he had).

In the summers my family would travel from our home in Rockford, Illinois, to "the farm" and spend a week there. I always looked forward to those trips. And I always felt welcomed warmly by Ernie and Ann, and my cousin Jim, who is my age. The farm is in a beautiful Michigan upper Peninsula valley, carved out by the Otter River. My parents had moved from the U.P. when I was just a year old. My dad's heart never left there, really, and he at times talked about moving back, even though there were no jobs. Some of this got into me. I live at the furthest point in Michigan from my birthplace in the U.P. (Hancock). Whenever I travel north there's a sense that I belong up there, too.

Ernie rarely traveled far from the farm. Those were his roots, and he wasn't going to leave them. I'll always remember his smile. I can hear his voice right now if I try, and it gives me a good feeling. Ann told me that just before he died she told him "I'll see you soon." I know she will. As will I. All of this hope is grounded in the resurrection of Christ. For more information go here, and here, and here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Benjamin Button Fails to Raise My Curiosity


Linda and I saw "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." I was looking forward to seeing it. Now, just an hour away from the experience, I feel let down. Brad Pitt did a good job. The makeup was amazing. The story line is not.

The idea of a baby born as an old man who, throughout life, grows younger until finally he's a baby, is clever. But Benjamin learns little, and gives us no answers. The movie doesn't even get the questions right. This captures the essence of my frustration. What could have been profound slogs along in trivialities (like a lot of beer and sex).

Here's the life of Benjamin Button, briefly:

  • Born as an old man
  • Abandoned by his father
  • Taken in as a baby by a black lady who works in a home for seniors
  • Rejects "Christianity" (the healing service scene is ridiculous - not only does BB not get healed but the faith healer collapses and dies - no wonder faith has no place at all in BB's life)
  • Gets drunk as a kid and has sex with a prostitute, leaving him wanting more (giving "dirty old man" a new meaning)
  • Becomes a sailor
  • Has an adulterous affair with Tilda Swinton who, after it all, leaves him a note saying "Nice to have met you" (The movie wants us to feel sorry for the poor wife-stealing Button at this point)
  • Finds out who his real father is, rejects his embrace, then seems to connect with him
  • Has multiple meaningless sexual encounters that lead to no real relationships (Button can't keep his pants buttoned)
  • Cohabits with his childhood sweetheart (many scenes of Button unbuttoned)
  • Occasionally wonders how it'll all work out with him growing young and her growing old
  • Fathers a child
  • Abandons the child and his cohabiting partner because he won't be able to be an adequate father, thus trading one level of inadequacy for another, lower one (Thanks Dad...)
  • Moves to India trying to figure it all out and maybe bathe in the Ganges (Thanks Dad...)
  • Comes back as a teenager to freak everybody out because he just can't stay away
  • Goes away again
  • Comes back again, this time as a kid who's in the early stages of Alzheimer's
  • Is cared for by his ex-cohabiting partner and, mutatis mutandis, cohabits again
  • Dies in her arms, while looking at her knowingly (!!!)
  • And through it all I felt like I was also watching reruns of "Titanic," as old Cate Blanchett listens to her daughter narrate the tragedy

Benjamin Button's life is weird, but only in one way. Otherwise, it's sadly normal. I've met 80-year-old people who still act like middle-schoolers, and Button reminds me of them, the difference being that he ages into looking more and more like them. I'm not curious about what makes him tick because I suspect there's not much there except a second hand moving backwards.

If the Lions Win This Sunday... ("Believe In Now")



If the Lions win this Sunday against Green Bay Olga's Restaurant will give you a free Olga sandwich. The coupon is here.

A few weeks ago my son Josh and I went to the MSU-North Carolina basketball game at Ford Field. It's the first time either of us had been there. What a facility! During halftime we went to the Lions Store. It's a pretty big store. Even though 20,000 fans were at the b-ball game, in the store there was only Josh and I, and 8 young sales people. Lions t-shirts were on sale for $10 (rather than $20-$40). One t-shirt was silver and blue with the words spread across the chest "Believe In Now." I almost bought one of the shirts. Josh said he didn't know if he'd be able to wear it.

Believe in now. "Now" is 0-15, and I believe it. Therefore, I believe in now. "Now" is what is happening at the present moment. "Now" is, well, now.

1. Now.
2. Therefore, now.

"Now" will be different next week. The Lions will not be 0-15. "Now" will have changed. In this regard we have two possible "nows."

1. On Dec. 29 the Lions will be either 0-16 or 1-16.
2. I will be eating a free Olga sandwich on Dec. 30.
3. Therefore, the Lions will be 1-15.

P1 is true.

P2 is possibly true, not probably true, and of course not necessarily true (otherwise the game need not be played). Believing in now won't affect the outcome. Therefore, I believe in then, because I care more about the Olga than the game.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Charles Taylor's A Secular Age



I am now feasting on Charles Taylor's phenomenal book A Secular Age. Of which Alasdair MacIntyre says, "There is no book remotely like it. It will be essential reading." Of which Robert Bellah says, "This is one of the most important books written in my lifetime."

Those are big recommendations, and Taylor deserves them. I am engrossed in his words, which so clearly articulate things coherent with my experience and understanding. Here's one sentence which says it all: "Naivete is now unavailable to anyone, believer or unbeliever alike." This strikes me, mostly, as true. I say "mostly" since, as I read his book, I occasionally think of counterexamples to his thesis. Having been a pastor for 36 years, I wonder if I have not met many people who have not been so secularized in the sense of living daily life from a theistic "background." They seem, to me, "naive." I expect Taylor would disagree with this. (For Taylor "naive" does not mean "unintelligent.")

What does this sentence mean? Taylor begins Chapter 1: "One way to put the question that I want to answer here is this: why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?" (25) For Taylor all this is about the "conditions for belief and unbelief." We have to place this discussion "in the context of... lived experience, and the construals that shape this experience." (13) "This is what philosophers, influenced by Wittgenstein, Heidegger or Polanyi, have called the "background."" (13) Initially, to me, this sounds like worldview or paradigm discussions. As I read further I'll be interested to see if Taylor distinguishes "background" from these. They all are, nearly always, "tacit" (Polanyi). They allow for belief or unbelief.

Taylor thinks it's not easy to answer his question above. But he admits that some people find it easy to answer. They argue that "modern civilization cannot but bring about a "death of God". I find this theory very unconvincing." His book proceeds to explain the loss of religious naivete in another way.

On Taylor's writing: it's clear, deep, containing nuggets of insight throughout, and poetic and witty. 776 pages long. Hopefully I'll finish it by July 4.

Ahmadinejad's Christology



“If Christ was on Earth today undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers. If Christ was on Earth today undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over. If Christ was on Earth today undoubtedly he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as He did in His lifetime.”

So said Iran's President Ahmadinejad today.

How many Christological errors are contained within these three sentences?

1. Christ never "stood with the people" on anything. The people, even those closest to him, had a hard time understanding this.

2. Christ opposed the rule of Satan. Jesus held to two-kingdom theology. The real battle, as Paul later wrote, is not really against other people.

3. Christ did not come to fix prevailing and ailing global economic and political systems. He didn't "do that in his lifetime," as Ahmadinejad wrongly claims. The prevailing religious-political leaders wanted him to side with them against the Roman empire. He refused to do this.

Ahmadinejad sounds like the self-righteous Pharisee who thanked God that he wasn't like the hated tax collector.

Christ doesn't stand with America, either. Jesus is far too revolutionary and radical to stand with any earthly empire. He came to save the whole world from their sins and deliver them out of the kingdom of darkness. This cannot be done by aligning with some socio-political system. Jesus once said that his kingdom is "not of this world." He said we are to love our enemies, not wage war against them. Christ lived out his message as he went to the cross, forgiving his enemies as he hung there. Both Ahmadinejad and America are a long way from the real Jesus.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Muslims in Iraq are "Religiously Cleansing" Iraqi Christians

(An Iraqi policeman checks security in a Baghdad church where midnight Mass will be celebrated tonight.)

Today's cnn.com says the situation in Iraq is desperate if you are a follower of Jesus.

Wittgensteinian Thoughts on Lying






Following the aphoristic style of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, here are some thoughts I have on lying and truth-telling, inspired by my recent post re. the evolutionary function of lying.
  • When someone is said to have lied, their lying seems to consist of: 1) a proposition made; 2) some kind of claim that the proposition is true; 3) the proposition is false; 4) the utterer of the proposition intends to deceive or something like that.

  • A "proposition" is a sentence that is either true or false.

  • Just because an uttered or written proposition is false does not mean the utterer is lying. They may be wrong. If I say "The Detroit Lions won last Sunday's football game," and it is false that the Lions won the game, then I am not necessarily lying. I might have forgotten who actually won the game, and thought the Lions did win the game.

  • "Lying" does not seem to fit the utterance of non-cognitive sentences, such as commands. If we're at dinner and I say "Please pass the salt," it's difficult to see how this could in any way ever be a lie. If there's not salt on the table, and I know there's no salt on the table, then the utterance is odd. Perhaps I am making a joke. Or, if I'm about to go into open heart surgery and I hear the surgeon say "Please pass the salt," I can't easily conclude that the surgeon is lying about something.

  • Could lying ever be non-propositional? Could one ever utter a command and be said to have lied? What if I request that you "Pass the salt," but I know the salt shaker is really a bomb, and that you'll be injured if you pick up the salt? If I say, "That's an ordinary salt shaker, and not a bomb," and I know this proposition is false as I tell you this, then it seems that I have lied.

  • If persons always lied, then we could never know if the statement "Persons always lie" is true.

  • To be able to claim that a person lied it seems we must have access to the truth. Otherwise I don't see how we could meaningfully say "Human beings have a propensity to lie." Don't we have to know the propositional content of a statement to be able to make that kind of claim?
  • First a theory of truth is required. Only from that can a theory of lying be developed.
  • What is truth?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's True That Humans Lie a Lot (and I'm not lying about that)



In Titus ch. 1 Paul writes about a group of Cretans called "the circumcision group." He says:

"11
They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." 13This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth."

This is paradoxical. If a Cretan says "All Cretans are liars," then he is lying, and the statement "All Cretans are liars" is false, which means it is true that "Not all Cretans are liars." The 4th-century Greek philosopher Epimenides, himself a Cretan, reportedly said "The Cretans are always liars." But this statement is not paradoxical, since it can be true or false. "All Cretans are liars," stated by a Cretan, is paradoxical. It's been called the "Liar's Paradox," and is the logical equivalent of stating "This sentence is false."

In today's nytimes.com we see something that reminds us of the Liar's Paradox. The essay is called "A Highly Evolved Propensity for Deceit." "In a comparative survey of primate behavior, Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size... Much evidence suggests that we humans, with our densely corrugated neocortex, lie to one another chronically and with aplomb." "Our lie blindness suggests to some researchers a human desire to be deceived, a preference for the stylishly accoutred fable over the naked truth."

"One safe generalization seems to be that humans are real suckers... We're desperate to believe that what our loved ones say is true."

OK.

1. Humans lie chronically and with aplomb.

2. Humans are blind to lying, preferring stylish fables to naked truth.

3. Humans are real suckers, desperate to believe our loved ones are telling the truth.

But if these things are true, then why believe this? What is "naked truth," and how could we possibly get at it? If humans have a "propensity" to lie and to want to be lied to, by what means do we adjudicate between a lie and a truth? How have the proponents of this theory themselves avoided chronic deceitfulness, and are we suckers for believing them?

Such are the problems within evolutionary naturalism. See Plantinga, "An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" - in part here, and in full in Pojman's philosophy of religion text.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sozo: Part 2



My guitar-playing friend Bill Long sent me an e-mail re. the biblical Greek word sozo. Bill wrote: A while back I was thinking about the Jimmy Page "Zoso" emblem, and I thought it would be neat to spell "Sozo" in the same kind of font. While I was surfing the internet, I found this web site - I think they make replacement capacitors for vintage tube amps..." http://www.sozoamplification.com/index.html

I went to the website and then read this - very cool!

"What is SoZo?

Sozo is the Greek word for Salvation. It was used in the new testament to describe the salvation of God. It is the salvation that only comes through the name and person of Jesus. It means complete deliverance from your current disposition, psychologically, physically, and eternally. Body, mind and spirit. It means deliverance from bad health, poverty, broken emotions. He offers his hand, please take it.

Strong's Number: 4982Original Word sw├▒Transliterated Word;

SozoVerb1. to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction

a. one (from injury or peril)

1. to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health

2. to preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue

b. to save in the technical biblical sense

1. negatively 1b

c. to deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment 1b

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Evolutionary Function of Theorizing



I like strange loops. Here's one, at least for me.

At economist.com I just read Why Music? "Biologists are addressing one of humanity’s strangest attributes, its all-singing, all-dancing culture." The tool: human evolutionary theory. Music has, obviously to evo-naturalists, evolved to confer some sort of selective advantage. Within this noetic framework music has a "function." What might that function be?

One theory of the function of music is this. "Around 40% of the lyrics of popular songs speak of romance, sexual relationships and sexual behaviour. The Shakespearean theory, that music is at least one of the foods of love, has a strong claim to be true. The more mellifluous the singer, the more dexterous the harpist, the more mates he attracts." Music's function is for gaining a sexual partner.

I pause here. I am now thinking of some wedding receptions I have been to. And DJs I have listened to. In my part of the world here's how we do this. The bride and groom dance to "Unchained Melody" or "Endless Love" or some equivalent song. Then the father of the bride and bride dance to "Butterfly Kisses" and there is a major meltdown happening among the guests. Then, out of nowhere, the DJ plays "Super Freak," the bride gyrates sexually before her husband, and we are forced to watch this. This is followed by "Y.M.C.A." and "The Chicken Dance," and we are forced to participate in this (the alternative is to sneak back to your table and pretend you are eating). The interesting thing here when it comes to evolutionary theory is that all the arm-flapping functions, prethematically, as mate-attraction. If this explanation is sufficient I now feel embarrassed to be homo sapiens.

Which raises the meta-theoretical question: If music's function is for gaining a sexual partner, what is the function of theorizing about what the function of music is? Evolution-wise it must have a function. I'm guessing it's about conquering enemy territory. Theorizing is about expanding the land and "the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat." A theorizer is a male moose lowering its head to reveal its antlers. Theorizing is revolutionary, war-making activity. There are a lot of careers out there to be lost, and they won't go down easily. I theorize, therefore I am male (mostly), and I come to conquer. That's my theory, written as my horns lower towards my computer screen, preparing for a possible counter-attack.

I theorize about the evolutionary function of theorizing. I theorize, therefore I theorize. It's a strange question-begging loop, having an ad infinitum quality. Such is my condition if evolutionary naturalism is sufficient to explain human behavior.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Vials of Ancient Perfume Found in Magdala



"A team of Franciscan archaeologists digging in the biblical town of Magdala in what is now Israel say they have unearthed vials of perfume similar to those that may have been used by the woman said to have washed Jesus' feet.

The perfumed ointments were found intact at the bottom of a mud-filled swimming pool, alongside hair and make-up objects, the director of the dig conducted by the group Studium Biblicum Franciscanum told the Terrasanta.net religious website."

Interesting, isn't it, that these have been found in Magdala?


Go here.

And here.

Was Barack Obama Present at the Birth of Christ?


"President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are appearing in Italian nativity scenes this year, alongside the baby Jesus and wise men, according to Naples craftsmen selling figurines in the run-up to Christmas."

Go here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Hooking Up" Displaces "Dating"



"Hooking up" is in; "dating" is passe. For the difference, and the explanation, see the nytimes.com piece here.

Sexual Purity



Recently Linda read Kris Vallotten's Purity: The New Moral Revolution. She told me it's one of the best books she's ever read on this subject. For her to share this with me is significant, since she and I have read tons of stuff on this over the years. So I'm reading it now, too. We're recommending this book to a lot of people. We continue to meet people who are in lust, not love. The sex god (as Rob Bell calls it) is alive, well, and destroying a lot of lives out there. Sexual purity, on the other hand, is refreshing, freeing, what real love is about, compelling... and, sadly, rare.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The University That Is In My Kitchen



I just got a nice little gift from Oxford University Press - a three-month free subscription to Oxford's philosophy journals + access to 200 more Oxford journals. Fun!

So, when I went to libraries to study, I usually picked up a copy of Mind and looked at it. So here I am reading an essay by philosopher Judith Baker called "Rationality Without Reasons." I'm interested in this because of my interest in Plantinga's idea of warranted belief, which argues that it's rational to believe in God without arguing evidentially.

Baker's article isn't Plantingian in this sense but it's in the ballpark. She "challenges the assumption that reasons are intrinsic to rational action." Very interesting. Perhaps her work could sync with Plantinga's. (Mind, October 2008)

Now I'm reading a review of John Searle's Freedom and Neurobiology. I am truly fascinated by this topic. The problem of free will, according to Searle, is this: "How are the conscious processes that constitute the experience of free will realized by a neurobiological system? In particular, how can the operation of a conscious and free self be realized in a neurobiological system?" The reviewer notes that Searle offers two solutions, both of which he (Searle) finds unacceptable. "The problem of free will, Searle reminds us, has been debated for centuries and we are nowhere near a satisfying solution."

For my own remembrance I now cite an article in the British Journal of the Philosophy of Science by U of Notre Dame professor J. Allen Pitts, entitled "Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Theism." Pitts thanks William Lane Craig and others for discussions that contributed to this essay. (December 2008)

As I'm browsing several academic journals whole sitting at my kitchen table I am again amazed at how accessible such information has become.

FYI - Zoroastrianism Growing (Slowly) in Illinois


Years ago I studied Persian dualism, aka Zoroastrianism. The Chicago Tribune reports that in the last 50 years their local Zoroastrian community has grown from 50 to 600. The growth is due to immigration of Z-ians from countries like India and Iran.

The Tribune article says: "Founded by the prophet Zoroaster in what probably was about 1400 B.C., Zoroastrianism teaches that God, the good Ahura Mazda, is opposed by the evil Angra Mainyu, but that good will ultimately vanquish its foe.Beginning in 549 B.C., the belief flourished for more than 1,000 years as the state religion of three empires centered in what is now Iran, and scholars cite its importance in influencing three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.There are 125,000 to 200,000 Zoroastrians worldwide, most of them in Iran and India, where they fled persecution in Islamic Iran and during the Mongol invasions."

For an explanation of the symbol go here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Don't Blame Biology for Sleepy Students



Today's cnn.com has an article called "Falling Asleep in Class? Blame Biology." I've got some "thoughts" about this.

1. This semester my "Philosophy of Religion" class is at the horrifically early hour of 9 AM. Some students arrive in class looking like they've just landed from a 24-hour flight from Bangkok. They are very, very tired. I'm not surprised. One of the reasons we chose to home-school our second son was because in the public school he was listening to a boring history or science lecture at 8 AM. Our home-schooling classes started later than that.

2. What's the deal about teens falling asleep in early classes? The argument runs this way:

a. Teens are not getting enough sleep.
b. This is due to the decisions of educators and the human biological need for sleep.
c. Therefore, teens are not to blame for their sleepiness.

The scientific explanation is this: "Sleepy teenagers may not be able to help it, researchers say. Blame it on the early school start time and their circadian rhythms: the mental and physical changes that occur in a day."

With this in mind I now digress into some philosophy.

3. The article's title, if taken seriously (let's do it for fun), implies students are not responsible for falling asleep in early classes. Biology makes them do it. Which means... they're not responsible?

4. I think the correct answer is: no and yes. "No" to their being responsible when it comes to their circadian rhythms. "No" to their being responsible if educators don't take these rhythms into account in scheduling. "Yes" to their being responsible if they choose to stay up all night and arrive at class with no sleep whatsoever.

5. If students don't have a choice at all then it seems that "they are not responsible." How could that be true? It could be true if all human behavior can be reduced to biological constraints. If all "choices" are ultimately explicable in terms of biology then free will is, at most, an epiphenomenon with no causal efficacy. Today's neuro-reductionists seem committed to such a position. At most, "making a choice" is like the rainbow that appears over Niagara Falls. It's beautiful, but in no way affects the physical falls. Neuro-reductionism claims there are no non-physical realities. All that is, is material. Things such as morality and making choices are sheer biological phenomena. If that's true then we are to blame biology for all human activity, including the choices educators make. Here's where things get very strange.

6. If that is true, then you and I, as we read about teen sleepiness, cannot "blame" biology or "feel compassion" towards sleepy students, since "blaming" and "feeling compassion" with a subjective recognition that "I am now feeling compassion" are examples of first-person subjective consciousness (qualia). Which brings us to "the hard problem of consciousness." Neuro-reductionists acknowledge it, and "trust" that it will one day be explicable. As for me and my brain, I'm with those who say it is, in principle, unsolvable. If it is to be ever solved it will require a paradigm shift to something we-know-not-what that will allow us to meaningfully "recognize" the solution and at the same time ascribe both the recognition and the solution and the ascribing ad infinitum to "biology." To me it will be something like proving I exist without assuming "I" exist to give such a proof.

7. I prefer to think that one can't really blame biology for sleepy students but rather blame either the choices students make or the choices educators make about when to hold classes or both. "Blaming" requires a personal agent who is the "blamee." A theory of why students are sleepy requires a theorizer.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Give Me That Old-Time Gort


Well, I feeling a bit sad today because "The Day the Earth Stood Still" remake is getting dissed. I wanted it to be a great movie. Probably, it's bad. After reading some scathing reviews I turned on the TV, surfed a bit, and landed on the 1951 original. And I was lifted out of my sadness and felt like a kid again, mesmerized by Michael Rennie, waiting to see my good friend Gort, attending to and appreciating the sound track, responding to Mr. "Carpenter's" death + resurrection...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Non Causa Pro Causa

This cartoon is an example of the informal logical fallacy of false cause (non causa pro causa - when something is erroneously posited to be the cause of something else, but in reality the conclusion is not dependent on the observed temporal relationship between the imagined cause and its effect; lit., "not the cause for the cause").

Since the final exam for my Logic course is a week from today I'm posting this as a warning to my students that this kind of argument won't work for two reasons: a) the informal fallacy it commits; and 2) astrological signs have no causal efficacy.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Gort: A Phenomenology



Why do some childhood events stay with you? Like "Gort" has stayed with me. I'm 59 years old and met Gort 50 years ago. He's resurfaced, awakened by the soon-to-open remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Could the original be my favorite all-time science fiction movie? Probably yes.

The story as I remember it brings the alien Klaatu (beautifully rendered by Michael Rennie) to earth, in love and in power. We fearful, threatened earthlings misunderstand and kill Klaatu. Klaatu's powerful robot, Gort, gets angry. Love has been rejected. Power gets exerted. Earthlings are about to get hurt.

The power of Gort is power restrained by the love and wisdom and curiosity of Klaatu. If Klaatu is the Gospels, Gort is the Apocalypse. If Klaatu is the Son, Gort is the Four Horsemen. Or, Gort is God. Instead of applying a final solution after Klaatu dies, Gort raises Klaatu from the dead.

In "Day" you had to wait to see Gort. This made the film better. "Day" takes the road less traveled, which is: delay gratification. Then, unlike "Waiting for Godot," Gort shows up. When he does, the earth and every kid watching the movie stood still. It was a holy moment pierced by arguably the most famous words any extraterrestrial ever said - "Gort, Klaatu barada nikto." Klaatu barada nikto. I wonder how many others never forgot those words? "Say them to Gort," Klaatu tells the earthling Helen, "should I die." "Gort - stop - don't kill anybody!"

As a kid I felt less interested in love and wanted to see power break forth. It's not fair to crucify pure innocence. When this happens there's the desire for revenge. But my inability to let love rule and win places me among the fearful, non-trusting earthlings who cry out "crucify him!" I wanted Gort to wipe us all out because we deserve it. Instead, because "Klaatu barada nikto," apocalpyse got delayed, and there's a resurrection instead. It's a great story, isn't it? A story that has stayed with me through the years.

Next Friday the remake opens, and I'm hoping it gets the story right.

It's Not the Camera, It's the Photographer


("Midnight Train to Humber," by Joel Charlebois)


I love to take pictures. My favorite "how-to" website is Ken Rockwell's here. Rockwell is a brilliant photographer who insists that the camera makes NO DIFFERENCE, because it's all about the shooter. Of course. You could be holding a Taylor guitar, but it's not the guitar, it's the player. A real guitar player can make beautiful music even on a Teisco (my very first electric guitar!).



A recent post proves Rockwell's point, as the picture to the right won a photo contest and was taken by an amateur using a point-and-shoot Canon Powershot.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Philosophy of Religion Oral Exam #4 Information



(Nietzsche, by Munck)

For my Philosophy of Religion Students at MCCC:

The oral exams will be held in: La-Z-Boy Center, Room 203 (the Board Room)

Oral Exam Questions:
1. Explain Nietzsche's Parable of the Madman
2. Explain Freud's explanation of religion as a projection of an infantile prototype

3. Explain Plantinga's idea that belief in God is properly basic

4. Explain Plantinga's modal argument for the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human free will

5. Explain Craig's metaethical argument for the existence of God

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hebrew Scholar Comes to Monroe Dec. 7-8



On Dec. 7-8 Hal Ronning, Director of the Home for Bible Translators of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, comes to speak at Redeemer Fellowship Church in Monroe.

Sunday evening, 6 PM - “The Relation of the Old Testament to the New Testament”

Monday morning, 10 AM - “Archaeology and the Bible”

Monday evening, 6:30 PM - “The Jewish Background of the New Testament”

No charge - a love offering will be taken as a gift to Hal.

The Home for Bible Translators and Scholars, Inc. (HBT) is a nonprofit ministry supporting translators and scholars from around the world to deepen their knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. The Home offers a six-month study program especially designed for Bible translators and consultants. The program is offered in partnership with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Hebrew University is fully accredited with about 25,000 students.


Since 1995, the Home for Bible Translators has trained over 80 Bible translators and scholars from 29 countries representing 53 languages. Through God’s strength, these translators, and their teams, will make it possible for over 45 million people to read the Old Testament in their own language.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It's Wrong to Force People Into Thinking They Are Wrong



In one of my Philosophy of Religion classes today I presented Craig and Copan's moral argument for the existence of God. Premise 2 of the argument is: Objective moral values (OMVs) exist. How do they argue for the truth of that? The answer is: OMVs are discovered rather than argued for. In other words, they are properly basic beliefs rather than evidentially proven conclusions.

For example: People who think it's OK to boil babies for fun are morally wrong. Why? Because I can see that boiling babies for fun is morally wrong, as you can too. And I don't see any reason to doubt this. But isn't that just one's subjective opinion? No. It is objectively true that boiling babies for fun is morally wrong. So anyone who thinks it's not morally wrong to do that is wrong. (Here the study of properly basic beliefs and noetic frameworks comes into play.)

One of my students objected to my saying this; viz., saying that I am right and people who think otherwise (in this example) are wrong. It seemed, to this student, arrogant of me.

I asked them, "Do you think I am wrong to claim that I am right and people who believe boiling babies for fun are wrong?" They said, "Yes."

"That's a very strong moral judgment. You think I am wrong." Does not that seem as arrogant as my statement?

It's very difficult to avoid making strong moral claims. The person who thinks it's wrong to force your opinions on other people are themselves forcing one of their opinions on us. It's instructive to note that such a belief ("It's wrong to force your opinions on others") is itself recent, narrow (not universally shared), and Eurocentric. A lot of people past and present don't believe such a statement to be true. It's a function of a certain noetic framework.

How about sharing your opinion that, say, some person is wrong because they believe ___? Surely that's not forcing an opinion on anybody. Or, saying something like, "Anyone who believes ____ is wrong." Is it wrong to do that? If it is, then it's self-defeating. If it's not, then there should be no problem when someone expresses such beliefs and even such knowledge claims.

Every knowledge claim marginalizes. That truth cannot be used to prove that, therefore, there are no knowledge claims at all.

(This is not exactly how my discussion today went. And, the student who dialogued a bit with me about this is one of the very best students in my class, and adds much to this particular class, to include asking questions that a lot of others are thinking but themselves dare not ask.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Philosophy of Religion Oral Exam #3 Questions

(Nietzsche)

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion Class)

Oral Exam #3 questions are:

1. Nietzsche's Parable of the Madman

2. Freud's Future of an Illusion


4. Plantinga's Modal Argument for the Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will