Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Monday, April 28, 2008

What Your Life Is NOT About

(Two snowflakes combine to form a heart falling in Monroe.)

The Real Jesus’ words are subversive. Like what Jesus says in Luke 12: 13-21. Jesus is speaking in front of several thousand people when a man interrupts and tells Jesus to side with him against his brother in an inheritance dispute. Jesus tells the man that He’ll have nothing to do with such things. But Jesus does use the man as an example of what NOT to do.

In Luke 12: 15 Jesus says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” These words are phenomenally un-American. Because here, in America, a man’s life (and a woman’s life as well) does consist of stuff, possessions, things, and money. In America today clothing does “make the man.” People get defined and hierarchized in relatiion to the carrs they drive, the homes they live in, their physical appearances, the jobs they have, their accomplishments and trophies and degrees, and so on. Here in Monroe, when I moved here 17 years ago, I heard about the “East Side” like it was the place where lesser people lived.

Jesus rejects all of this. Your life and my life, Jesus says, does not “consist” of things we wear and drive and live in and hang on the walls of our home. Can you see how radical this idea is? Can you see how, if people in America who say they are Christians actually bought into what Jesus is saying, then our consumer economy would go down the tubes? All we’d have left to trust in, since we’re not trusting in possessions any more, would be God and one another. And that would be very interesting. Would it be worse then what we have now?

Not according to Jesus. The idea that in money and possessions we have “security” is false, as well as idolatrous. And it forms the breeding ground for worry and anxiety. Who can doubt that in America today, and across the globe, these are very anxious times? And that the anxiety level is directly related to a pseudo-security that is umbilically connected to money and possessions and, to use the Jesus-word, greed?

Are you worried about your future today? Why not begin by finally rejecting the idea that your worry will diminish when you have more money. The truth is that no one in the history of our planet has ever had “more” than you and I have. So, logically, if the solution was “more,” then we should be the least anxious people who have ever lived. Unfortunately, the daily news says the opposite.

In the Kingdom Jesus talked about there’s not words like “worry” and “anxiety.” Because it’s all about trust in a God who loves and cares for you more than He cares for sparrows. And there’s phenomenal freedom in the Kingdom of God. Because God does not evaluate you by what you wear, earn, drive, or eat. To God, your life does not in any way “consist” of such things. Receive this and live free.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Talk With a Northwestern University Student

Today an undergraduate student of Northwestern University named Jennifer contacted me re. making a pledge to NU. I received my Ph.D in Religious and Theological Studies (Philosophical Theology) from NU in 1986.

I very much enjoyed talking with Jennifer. She's an undergraduate student from Hong Kong. I am extremely interested in Chinese people and their culture. She asked me what I do and I shared about my philosophy classes at MCCC.

Jennifer - if you're reading this, here's the kind of things you'll find at this website:

- Ongoing arguments/dialogue for the existence of God, to include examination and evaluation of atheistic claims.

- Research that supports the authenticity of the Jesus story.

- Plus other things I am interested in.

It was good talking with you. Thanks for your interest in the things I am doing. I wish you many blessings in your studies at NU!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Judt's Realistic View of Evil

"The Devil is part of our experience. . . Evil, I contend, is not contingent, it is not the absence, or deformation, of the subversion of virtue (or whatever else we may think of as its opposite), but a stubborn and unredeemable fact."
- NYU's Tony Judt, in Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (cited here)

Atheist Churches & the New "Four Horsemen"

Here's an article on "atheist churches."

Some things the article says include:

- Atheism is the fastest growing "faith" in America. "The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released the results of its “Religious Landscape” survey in February and found that 16 percent of Americans have no religious affiliation. The number is even greater among young people: 25 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds now identify with no religion, up from 11 percent in a similar survey in 1986."

NOTE: In my MCCC philosophy classes here in Southeast Michigan there's a small number of students who outwardly claim themselves as atheists. The majority of them know little or nothing about their "faith." A few of them - very few - are seriously studying their atheistic faith.

- Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins are now known as "The Four Horsemen." There is concern that "the militancy of the Four Horsemen could derail an otherwise powerful movement." This seems correct. The "Four Horsemen" are indeed very angry guys.

- Some atheists feel the need for a "church," in fear that if atheism is not organized it will fade into the cultural background again.

- The Four Horsemen are not themselves united. "At this point, the movement can’t even agree on a name. Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, prefers the term anti-theist because he’s entertained the possibility that God exists and finds the prospect frightening, the spiritual equivalent of living in North Korea. Daniel Dennett continues to promote the term bright, which, he has said, is “modeled very deliberately and very consciously on the homosexual adoption of the word gay.” (In the first chapter of God Is Not Great, Hitchens dismisses the term as conceited.) And Sam Harris, brash young scientist that he is, triggered a minor revolt last fall at the Atheist Alliance International Conference in Crystal City, Virginia, when he lashed out against the term atheist, disparaging those who identify with a negation. “It reverberated in atheist circles as a sacrilege,” Harris told me. “But what’s worse is adopting language that was placed on us by religious people. We don’t feel the need to brand ourselves non-astrologers or non-racists.”"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kaufman's Reinvention of the Sacred

An excerpt from biochemist-physicist Stuart Kaufman's Reinvention of the Sacred is on

Kaufman writes against a scientific reductionism that reduces life to sheer matter. He's anti-physicalist and anti-materialist. The word for Kaufman is "emergence." Life emerged from matter as something new and distinct from matter and non-reducible to matter. It's a non-reductionist theory of biogenesis. And, he's totally jaw-droppingly amazed by this, as he well should be. He uses the word "God" to describe this, but not "God" in the sense of classical theism.

The Edge excerpt simply states "emergence, not reductionism." Kaufman here makes no actual argument. Presumably, that will be found in the rest of his book. But for now note this. Kaufman writes:

[In scientific reductionism] "There are no meanings, no values, no doings. The reductionist worldview led the existentialists in the mid-twentieth century to try to find value in an absurd, meaningless universe, in our human choices. But to the reductionist, the existentialists’ arguments are as void as the spacetime in which their particles move. Our human choices, made by ourselves as human agents, are still, when the full science shall have been done, mere happenings, ultimately to be explained by physics.

Reductionism is inadequate reductionism. Even major physicists now doubt its full legitimacy. Biology and its evolution cannot be reduced to physics alone but stand in their own right. Life, and with it agency, came naturally to exist in the universe. With agency came values, meaning, and doing, all of which are as real in the universe as particles in motion. “Real” here has a particular meaning: while life, agency, value, and doing presumably have physical explanations in any specific organism, the evolutionary emergence of these cannot be derived from or reduced to physics alone. Thus, life, agency, value, and doing are real in the universe. This stance is called emergence. Weinberg notwithstanding, there are explanatory arrows in the universe that do not point downward. A couple in love walking along the banks of the Seine are, in real fact, a couple in love walking along the banks of the Seine, not mere particles in motion. More, all this came to exist without our need to call upon a Creator God.

Emergence is therefore a major part of the new scientific worldview. Emergence says that, while no laws of physics are violated, life in the biosphere, the evolution of the biosphere, the fullness of our human historicity, and our practical everyday worlds are also real, are not reducible to physics nor explicable from it, and are central to our lives. Emergence, already both contentious and transformative, is but one part of the new scientific worldview I embrace."

As a theist I can agree with Kaufman's analysis that, on scientific reductionism, life has no meaning. I am also with him in saying that "love" is not reducible to mere matter in motion. But merely to say that, e.g., "love's explanatory arrows" do not point downward and can be explained with God remains to be seen. I doubt this can be done without God.

Jesus' Birth Was Illegitimate? today has this little item. Here it is in its entirety,

"Film director Paul Verhoeven has written a book that contradicts the Bible by suggesting that Jesus might have been fathered by a Roman soldier who raped Mary.

An Amsterdam publishing house says it will publish the book titled "Jesus of Nazareth: A Realistic Portrait" in September.

Verhoeven is best known as the director of films including "Basic Instinct" and "RoboCop," but he is also a member of the "Jesus Seminar," a group that questions church teachings about Jesus.

John Dominic Crossan, a Jesus Seminar founder, says that while Verhoeven is a member in good standing, there is little evidence for the view that Jesus was illegitimate."

Crossan says the claim was first reported in a polemic written in the second century to refute the Christian belief that Jesus was born of a virgin.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Philosophy Oral Exams Next Week

I give each student in my Philosoph7y of Religion And Western Philosophy classes three individual 10-minute oral exams per semester.

The third set of oral exams will all happen on MCCC's main campus, room A-173c.

Philosophy of Religion - Oral Exam Questions

1. Nietzsche's parable of the madman

2. Russell's "A Free Man's Worship"

3. Craig's metaethical argument for the existence of God

4. Plantinga on properly basic beliefs and the rationality of belief in God

5. Plantinga - divine foreknowledge and human free will are compatible

Western Philosophy - Oral Exam Questions

1. Plato's soul-body dualism

2. Descartes' mind-body dualism

3. Pinker's physicalism

4. Piippo's dualism

Thursday, April 17, 2008

7 Reasons to Believe That Persons Have Souls

(These notes are for my MCCC Western Philosophy Class. We've been discussing Platonic and Cartesian mind-body dualism, the physicalism of Steven Pinker et. al, and now I'm wrapping up this class with reasons I think support a form of mind-body dualism.)

WESTERN PHILOSOPHY – Seven Reasons to Believe In the Existence of the Human Soul

Dr. John Piippo

I believe persons have souls. I believe we can make a cumulative case for the soul’s existence based on seven things:

1. The failure of physicalism and materialism to solve what Steven Pinker has called the “Hard Problem” of consciousness.
2. Logical-philosophical arguments can be made to support mind-body dualism.
- Example: first-person subjective experience of sight
- Example: the zombie argument against physicalism

3. Neuroscientific and neuropsychological reasons can be given to support dualism.

4. The existence of human libertarian free will implies the existence of a nonphysical mind or consciousness.

5. Arguments can be made for the truth of Judeo-Christian theism. If the noetic structure of Judeo-Christian theism is true, it is rational to believe that we have souls.

6. A strong historical argument can be made for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If there is life after death, then the death of the physical body does not mean the end of consciousness.

7. Personal spiritual experience argues for the existence of the soul.

1. The Inability, In Principle, to resolve the “Hard Problem” (Pinker)
a. Recognition of the problem
b. Statement of the Problem
i. The really “hard” problem is the problem of experience, the subjective aspect of consciousness, the executive “I” and its amazingly private nature.
ii. “Why should physical processing give rise to a rich and private inner life at all?” asks philosopher David Chalmers. “It’s a mystery.”
c. The de facto logical impossibility of resolving the Hard Problem
d. It’s impossible to speak about a materialistic theory of “mind” without borrowing from dualistic “mind-language.”

2. Two logical arguments against physicalism
a. First-person subjective experience of sight
i. Consider someone who is congenitally blind.
ii. If materialism is true, then such a blind person should be able to gain a full knowledge of what it is like, experientially, to see. He could deduce this from the physiology and functional organization of the human eye. He would simply need to be intelligent enough to grasp the concepts.
iii. IN OTHER WORDS, if there’s no such thing as non-material reality, then a blind person misses nothing in terms of knowledge if they cannot see. The blind man can get an adequate conception of physical color as it is described physically in terms of wavelengths of light and the reflective properties of pigment.
iv. But it does seem that a person who can see has a kind of knowledge that a blind-from-birth person could not have.
v. The only thing the blind person fails to grasp by the statement “The traffic lights are red” is that he does not know what kind of physical experience the sighted person has when he sees the traffic lights. John Foster writes: “But this knowledge is precisely what, if conceptual materialism were true, he should be able to deduce from the physical information available.” (“A Defense of Dualism,” in William Lane Craig, Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide, p. 457)
vi. Foster writes: “The problem for the blind man is that the physical truths provide no introspective reference points at all. And for this reason, I cannot see how he could derive from them, in any sense, a full knowledge of what it is like, experientially, for the sighted organism to see.
vii. IN OTHER WORDS: There is a kind of knowledge that is non-physical.
viii. Therefore physicalism fails to do justice to first-person subjective experience.

b. The “Zombie Argument” against physicalism
i. A philosophical zombie or p-zombie is a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, sentience, or sapience. When a zombie is poked with a sharp object, for example, it does not feel any pain. It behaves exactly as if it does feel pain (it may say "ouch" and recoil from the stimulus), but it does not actually have the experience of pain as a person normally does. (See “Philosophical Zombie,” in wikipedia -
c. According to physicalism, physical facts determine all other facts. Therefore, since all the facts about a p-zombie are fixed by the physical facts, and these facts are the same for the p-zombie and for the normal conscious human from which it cannot be physically distinguished, physicalism must hold that p-zombies are not possible. Therefore, zombie arguments support lines of reasoning that aim to show that zombies are possible.
i. NOTE: The zombie argument against physicalism is, therefore, a version of a general modal argument against physicalism, such as that of Saul Kripke's in "Naming and Necessity" (1972).The notion of a p-zombie, as used to argue against physicalism, was notably advanced in the 1970s by Thomas Nagel (1970; 1974) and Robert Kirk (1974).
d. See the “zombie argument against physicalism” developed in detail by David Chalmers in The Conscious Mind (1996). According to Chalmers, one can coherently conceive of an entire zombie world: a world physically indiscernible from our world, but entirely lacking conscious experience. In such a world, the counterpart of every being that is conscious in our world would be a p-zombie.
1. If physicalism is true, then it is logically impossible for zombies to exist.
2. It is logically possible for zombies to exist.
3. Therefore, physicalism is false.
4. If it is logically possible for zombies to exist, then consciousness cannot be explained reductively.
5. There is no logically necessary connection between first-person subjective experience (phenomenal consciousness) and the physical world.

The claim of Chalmers and others is a strictly logical claim. Which means: Since such a world is logically conceivable, Chalmers claims, it is possible; and if such a world is possible, then physicalism is false. (Note: “square circle,” or “married bachelor,” are examples of concepts that are logically inconceivable.)
Chalmers is arguing only for logical possibility, and he maintains that this is all that his argument requires. He states: "Zombies are probably not naturally possible: they probably cannot exist in our world, with its laws of nature."
It’s easy to imagine a “zombie.” A “zombie” is a creature physically identical to a human, functioning in all the right ways, having conversations, playing chess, but simply lacking all conscious experience. So if a person can be physically identical to us yet without consciousness, then it would seem that consciousness is not a physical thing.
“There is an explanatory gap here that is really something of an abyss,” says Chalmers.

3. Neuroscientific and neuropsychological reasons can be given to support dualism.
a. See especially University of Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard’s The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case For the Existence of the Soul. Beauregard shows how Mental therapy can alter the behavior of the physical brain.
i. This is the claim scientists such as Jeffrey M. Schwartz, a research professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles.
1. Schwartz has been treating people with obsessive-compulsive disorders to counter their urges through focused attention of the mind.
2. Scans of his patients’ brains reveal that such mental therapy can alter the behavior of their brains, something that could not happen if the mind emerged entirely from the brain, he says.
ii. See Beauregard, chapter 3 - “Toward a Nonmaterialist Science of Mind.”
1. E.g., Beauregard and others treated patients with OCD using mental therapy. They were “not simply getting patients to change their opinions, but rather to actually change their brains.” (p. 130)
iii. See Beauregard’s studies on the “placebo effect” and the “nocebo effect.”

4. Human free will is a serious obstacle to the materialist explanation of human consciousness.
a. The problem for materialists, according to Beauregard, is that the subjective experience of free will necessitates an agent that can sometimes completely override that alleged biological predetermination, or “the roulette wheel’s spin.”
b. A bystander selflessly jumps into a freezing river to save survivors of an airplane crash. That overriding agency cannot be explained in purely materialist terms.

5. Arguments can be made for the truth of Judeo-Christian theism. If the noetic structure of Judeo-Christian theism is true, it is rational to believe that we have souls.
a. See for arguments and resources/links/etc. in support of Judeo-Christian theism.

6. A strong historical argument can be made for Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If there is life after death, then the death of the physical body does not mean the end of consciousness.
a. See for arguments/links on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.

7. Personal spiritual experience argues for the existence of the soul.
a. I’ve kept a spiritual journal for 26 years that contains 3000 pages of God communicating with me.
b. I’ve taught a course called “Spiritual Transformation” at many seminaries and in many contexts for 30 years.
c. See also Beauregard, e.g., on spiritual and mystical experience.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Barack Obama on the Beginning of Human Life

On Sunday Barack Obama was asked, "do you personally believe that life begins at conception? And if not, when does it begin?" Here is his response.

"This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on. I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don't presume to know the answer to that question. What I know, as I've said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates." (For the full text of Obama's faith-responses go here.)

But surely it is not hard to know when human life begins, or when "life" begins. A fertilized egg is not non-life, but life. A rock, e.g., is a non-living thing. A fertilized egg is a living thing. Even the atheist can affirm this. But for the atheist, such as a Peter Singer, there's nothing special about human life over other animal life. To claim such would be to be guilty of speciesism.

Obama, like Clinton, opts for the conceptus being "potential life" rather than actual human life. On this see my remarks on Clinton below.

For some fuller remarks search my blog using "personhood" and "abortion."

Hillary Clinton on the Beginning of Human Life

Yesterday Hillary Clinton was asked if she believed that life begins at conception. Here's her response.

"I believe that the potential for life begins at conception. I am a Methodist, as you know. My church has struggled with this issue. In fact, you can look at the Methodist Book of Discipline and see the contradiction and the challenge of trying to sort that very profound question out.

But for me, it is also not only about a potential life; it is about the other lives involved. And, therefore, I have concluded, after great, you know, concern and searching my own mind and heart over many years, that our task should be in this pluralistic, diverse life of ours in this nation that individuals must be entrusted to make this profound decision, because the alternative would be such an intrusion of government authority that it would be very difficult to sustain in our kind of open society.

And as some of you've heard me discuss before, I think abortion should remain legal, but it needs to be safe and rare.

And I have spent many years now, as a private citizen, as first lady, and now as senator, trying to make it rare, trying to create the conditions where women had other choices.

I have supported adoption, foster care. I helped to create the campaign against teenage pregnancy, which fulfilled our original goal 10 years ago of reducing teenage pregnancies by about a third. And I think we have to do even more."

(For the full text of her responses go here.)

Clinton is correct that the United Methodist Church has struggled with this issue.

Does human life begin at conception? Clinton's answer is "No." Human life does not begin at conception, but the "potential for human life" begins at conception. Which means that, somewhere along the way, the conceptus changes from non-human life to human life. I find this kind of thinking the least reasonable among options. Here are the options, as I see them.

1. Human life begins at conception. Which means: the conceptus is a "person." Both Christian theists and atheists can believe this. The Christian theist holds that each of us was "formed and knitted together in our mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13). The atheist, not believing in the idea that persons have souls, will not agree that, somewhere along the way, the some special "ensouling" happens. The conceptus is as much "human life" as you and I are.

2. Human life happens somewhere along the way. At, let's say, time T. Which means that at time T-minus 1 second, there's no "human life."

Regarding position 2, who could ever decide? Such a decision seems arbitrary. If it regards a human life, why not err on the side of humanity rather than non-humanity? Clinton says, "I think abortion should be legal, but it needs to be safe and rare." I assume she would think that, if we knew the thing in the mother's womb was a human life, a person, she would not support taking the life of a person. The idea that the conceptus suddenly becomes, at some magic moment, "human life," is fraught with philosophical difficulties. The idea that the conceptus is, not potentially human life, but human life, is something that both theists and atheists could support.

For some fuller remarks search my blog using "personhood" and "abortion."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eric Clapton & the Efficacy of Prayer

Way back in the 70s I bought a Blind Faith album. I was a big fan of Cream, and especially Eric Clapton. On it Clapton wrote and sang a song called "In the Presence of the Lord." The lyrics said:

I have finally found a place to live
Just like I never could before
And I know I don't have much to give
But soon I'll open any door.
Everybody knows the secret
Everybody knows the score
I have finally found a place to live
In the presence of the Lord.

When I was touring the Midwest singing and performing with Linda there was a time when I included this song in a set.

This February Clapton reunited with Blind Faith's Steve Winwood for a series of concerts. In a recent CT article Clapton talks about his release from drug abuse. And the role prayer played. He says:

"I was in complete despair," Clapton wrote. "In the privacy of my room, I begged for help. I had no notion who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether … and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered. Within a few days I realized that … I had found a place to turn to, a place I'd always known was there but never really wanted, or needed, to believe in. From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety. I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do. If you are asking why I do all this, I will tell you … because it works, as simple as that."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Saw" As Illustrating Descartes' Mind-Body Dualism

In my Western Philosophy class today I was teaching out of Descartes' Meditations. Descartes thought "mind" and "body" to be two entirely different kinds of substances, "mind" being indivisible and unextended, "body" (and all corporeal things) being divisible and extended.

I quoted from Meditation VI, where Descartes writes, "yet if a foot, or an arm, or some other part, is separated from the body, I am aware that nothing has been taken away from my mind."

After quoting this I said, "like the movie "Saw" illustrates. The guy cut his foot off, thus losing a small percentage of his corporeal, extended, divisible body. But, sadly, he retained 100% of his indivisible mind.

One of my students then said, "Saw is a genius movie!" And we began to discuss "Saw" as illustrative of Descartes. As one student left I asked, "Are you understanding Descartes? Are you getting this stuff??" She responded, "Yeah, thanks, the "Saw" thing really helped me."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Deepak Chopra's False Jesus

Here's an article on Deepak Chopra and his new book The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore.

"Chopra challenges Christian doctrine while presenting an alternative: Jesus as a state of mind, rather than the historical rabbi of Nazareth or son of God."

"The third perspective - which Chopra calls "a cosmic Christ" - looks at Jesus as a spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name. Chopra argues that Christ speaks to the individual who wants to find God as a personal experience."

OK - surely the most authentic witnesses we have to the real Jesus are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In them Jesus is a historical rabbi ("teacher") from Nazareth and "Son of God." states that, for Chopra, there are three views of Jesus: "First, there is the historical Jesus, the man who lived more than two thousand years ago and whose teachings are the foundation of Christian theology and thought. Next there is Jesus the Son of God, who has come to embody an institutional religion with specific dogma, a priesthood, and devout believers. And finally, there is the third Jesus, the cosmic Christ, the spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name. He speaks to the individual who wants to find God as a personal experience, to attain what some might call grace, or God-consciousness, or enlightenment."

Jesus #2 is a "symbolic Jesus" created by theologians and the church. That's Jesus as "Son of God." Gee... that's disappointing to me, because that's my Jesus. That's the real Jesus of the 4 gospels, who is not a creation of the church.

Throughout his book Chopra quotes from - believe it or not - the Gospel of Thomas. He says: "Thomas is the most amazing gospel. There's nothing there that should scare anyone. When he talks about the kingdom of heaven, it's clear he's talking about a shift in consciousness."

Well, now there's a true "creation of the church"; viz., the "Gospel of Thomas." With this non-scary text that's 150 years post-Jesus we have a real "creation of [a sect of] the church." New Testament scholar Craig Evans, in Fabricating Jesus, writes: "Fact: The Gospel of Thomas is late, not early; secondary, not authentic. Contrary to what a few scholars maintain, the Gospel of Thomas originated in Syria and probably no earlier than the end of the second century."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More Undergraduates Showing Interest in Philosophy

Today's has an article entitled "In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined." More undergraduates are taking philosophy classes and either majoring or minoring in philosophy.

I've had a small but sigificant number of my philosophy students end up minoring or majoring in philosophy, or expressing interest in taking more philosophy classes.

The article says: "At the City University of New York, where enrollment is up 18 percent over the past six years, there are 322 philosophy majors, a 51 percent increase since 2002.
“If I were to start again as an undergraduate, I would major in philosophy,” said Matthew Goldstein, the CUNY chancellor, who majored in mathematics and statistics. “I think that subject is really at the core of just about everything we do. If you study humanities or political systems or sciences in general, philosophy is really the mother ship from which all of these disciplines grow.”"

My Western Philosophy Class at MCCC

For my MCCC Western Philosophy students:

Our third section will look at the mind-body dualism of Plato and Descartes and philosophical response to this.

We'll look at Steven Pinker as an example of physicalism, which denies that "mind" exists as a non-physical substance.

We'll look at a contemporary example of a philosophical substance dualist, J.P. Moreland.

This will be the first time I've taught issues of the mind-body problem in this class, and I'm looking forward to the discussions.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Philosophy of Religion Winter 2008 Section 3 Readings

For my Winter 2008 MCCC Philosophy of Religion students:

In the last section of our class we will study the following -

- Nietzsche (handout to be given in class)
- Bertrand Russell's "A Free Man's Worship" (Pojman, 574)
- William Lane Craig, "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality" (I'll give you a copy of this in class, and you can access it here)
- Alvin Plantinga, "Religious Belief Without Evidence" (Pojman, 389)
- Alvin Plantinga, "God's Foreknowledge and Human Free Will Are Compatible" (Pojman, 260)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Essential & Contingent Attributes of a Real Move of God

(The Negev Desert in Israel)

In the movie “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the lion Aslan is, in the land of Narnia, Jesus. Narnia is under the spell of the wicked White Witch. The land is frozen, the inhabitants who challenge her have been frozen into statues, and there is great despair. Enter Aslan; i.e., God incarnate. Hope arises, and the creatures begin to whisper that “Aslan is on the move.” This results in snow melting, creatures thawing out and getting set free, and hope arising.

If God were to be on the move in your community what might that look like?

We get some answers to this by studying the book of Acts, especially chapters 1 – 4. Here we see elements that seem to always characterize an authentic move of God. Here are some of them. To identify these things is important for me personally for the sake how how I pray and for being able to identify the real thing from pretenders.

*The early Jesus-followers spent much time praying together
*They had a sense of expectancy, because a promise had been given to them
*The Holy Spirit came on the people
*God gave them signs (a “sign” is something that points to something else; in this case, points to God)
*The people were in unity
*There was repentance taking place – a turning away from the stuff of this world to the things of God
*They broke bread together; had meals together; celebrated the Lord’s Supper together
*They worshiped
*They went out into there community and witnessed to what God is doing
*This witness happened in two ways: 1) miracles done through them; and 2) preaching/teaching about God and Jesus
*The people held on to their material possessions lightly, and gave to others as they had need
*There was resistance and even persecution
*The early Jesus-followers responded to this resistance and persecution by asking God to stretch out his hand and demonstrate his might power so the persecutors might see and believe
*They prayed

When God moves, I think we should expect to see these kind of things. Which are, I argue, essential attributes of a real move of God. Of course, other things can happen, too. Such things, if they are from God, are important, and can be called contingent attributes of a move of God. In terms of praying, I'm not praying for God to give us certain contingent, non-essential things. Identify the core elements of a real move of God, ask God to send more of his Holy Spirit upon us, and then expect to see the kind of things I have bullet-pointed above.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Would Jesus Want to Convert Jews?

(I took this picture from above the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem)

In yesterday's Jerusalem Post Shmuley Boteach wrote an article called "Would Jesus Want to Convert Jews?" Here are Boteach's bullet points, with my responses.

1. Boteach asks, is belief in the divinity of Jesus compatible with Judaism? He responds: "It is not. Period. It never was, and it never will be." In declaring this he manages to offend those Jews who believe Jesus is God the Son and Messiah and find this compatible with their Judaism. Boteach thinks the two are incompatible, that's clear. But why?

2. Because: "This is what Jesus would want and says so with ferocious directness, going so far as condemn all who attempt to pry Jews away from Judaism: "Whoever goes against the smallest of the laws of Moses, teaching men to do the same, will be named least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who keeps the Law of Moses, teaching others to keep them, will be named great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:19)."

Now this is astoundingly naive and false. Jesus was a Jew. At the heart of Jesus' mission was calling his fellow Jews to recognize him as Messiah and follow him. Jesus consistently claims to point his fellow Jews to the true meaning of Torah. Whether or not Jesus is correct, it remains true that Jesus was trying to convert Jews, not away from Judaism, but to Judaism as he saw it. Boteach's idea that Jesus is condemning "all who attempt to pry Jews away from Judaism" misses the point.

3. "Many Christians still have not evolved enough to respect the Jewish faith. It's bad for Christians because if they reject the Jewishness of Jesus they will never fully understand his teachings or his life."

Of course we must understand the Jewishness of Jesus. Many Christian scholars are heavily investing in this today. One cannot understand the real Jesus without understanding Jesus as a Jew, and understanding the Jewishness of his time. But my guess is that Boteach has not understood Jesus the Jew. To co-opt Jesus as being against prying Jews away from Judaism is like claiming that supporters of Gandhi are trying to turn Indians against India. It just misses the point. Just as Gandhi was after a true India and was in conflict with some governmental officials, so Jesus had a view of true Judaism which put him in conflict with some Jews of his time. I suspect Shmuley of not looking closely enough at Jesus the Jew.

4. Boteach writes: "Jesus was a Pharisaic rabbi. Everything he taught and lived was based on the Torah and the Talmud. From his proclamation that "The meek shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5) which comes from Psalm 37, to the famous Golden Rule of 'Do to others what you would they do to you," which derives from Leviticus 19, to his statement that 'the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath,' whose origin is the Talmud (Yoma 85b), Jesus' mission was to renew Jewish attachment to the Torah in a time when the threads of tradition were being unwoven due to the oppressive hand of the occupying Roman beast."

Two thoughts:

a. Was Jesus a Pharisee? Clearly, Jesus conflicts with Pharisees. Clearly, Jesus consistently rejects the oral laws of the Pharisees. So it is false that "everything he taught and lived was based on the Torah and the Talmud." Cannot Boteach - like it or not - see the great tension and conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over the Shema, Shabat, and so on and on and on? I think the idea that Jesus himself was a Pharisee is difficult to support. Rather than engagin in intra-Pharisaical dialogue Jesus refuses to align with any of the Jewish religio-political options of his time.

b. Jesus' mission is not best described as renewing Jewish attachment to the Torah. Jesus' self-described mission was to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and demonstrate the inbreaking of the kingdom in his very person. Jesus clearly extends his mission to non-Jews as seen, e.g., in the parable of the good Samaritan.

I see Boteach as twisting Jesus into someone to be used for his own purposes rather than looking at the real Jesus. Jesus surely would sympathize with those "Christ"-ians who believe that he is the Jewish Christ. In this regard I don't know what Shmuley as a Jew thinks of the idea of Messiah. I have Jewish friends who consider "Messiah" as a non-issue. For example, I once asked a friend who is a Jewish Rabbi for information on what Jews themselves say about Messiah. He told me he could find little on the subject, except point me to some of Abraham Heschel's writings.